The principal of an independent NSW school has defended staff receiving JobKeeper after the school came under scrutiny by public education advocacy group Save Our Schools.
St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie received $3.1 million in support payments for staff during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The school turned over a surplus of $3.7 million the same year.
In a statement released by Save Our Schools, national convenor of the group Trevor Cobbold, said 33 NSW private schools received $72 million in JobKeeper payments in 2020 while making profits of $75 million.
"Every school made a profit with JobKeeper and all except two increased their profits over the previous year," the statement reads.
"NSW private schools have been showered with funds by the Commonwealth and NSW governments over the past decade while public schools have been denied adequate funding."
St Columba Anglican School principal Terry Muldoon defended the school receiving the JobKeeper payments, saying as the school is relatively new, thit doesn't have funds to fall back on.
"The differentiation between a school like ours and the other schools that received JobKeeper is quite remarkable in both the age of the school, the wealth of the school and the wealth of the ex-students," he said.
"Save Our Schools is pushing that independent schools have big dollars in funding somewhere hidden in either the grounds or legacies. Unfortunately as a new school we have none of that.
"Our graduates are starting to forge their way in the world, but at this point I don't know if we have too many wealthy ex-students who are going to be donating to the school."
St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie opened its doors in 2002.
To receive the JobKeeper payments, the school had to prove that they had a fall in income of at least 30 per cent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Prior to JobKeeper, the school council made the decision to slash the school fees by 50 per cent, so that families who had been adversely impacted by the pandemic, were still able to send their kids to school and didn't have to front up and say they couldn't afford it," Mr Muldoon said.
"That meant we slashed 50 per cent of our income that we get from our student fees.
"When the school was in lockdown, we had a significant number of staff that couldn't do their work from home. Rather than them being unemployed, what the school did was set up a COVID leave system, so that those staff would actually still receive payment and would not be unemployed.
"It also allowed us to staff the school campus during lockdown for around 200 students whose parents were involved in the emergency services so they had somewhere to go to learn."
Mr Muldoon said all of these measures were taken before JobKeeper was announced by the federal government.
"We were already losing significant amounts of money," he said.
"We looked at the criteria for JobKeeper when it was announced and all it required us to do was show that we had lost over 30 per cent. We did our figures and had cut 32 per cent off our income because of the actions we took during lockdown.
"Therefore we applied and were given an allocation by the federal government.
"The federal government did check to make sure we were using the money correctly and we did declare it as income."
Mr Muldoon said if the school hadn't applied for the wage subsidy, it would have suffered a large financial hit.
"There's no doubt that we would have lost students. A lot of families simply would not have been able to pay and it would have meant placing a burden on other schools. And when you lose student numbers, you lose staff.
"Save Our Schools talks about these schools making a profit in their press release. We are a not-for-profit school and what we make each year above our expenses is our surplus which we use to develop new areas of the school or pay off loans.
"The group also mentions that these are wealthy schools. We simply do not have this trench of millions of dollars in our back pockets like other schools might have."
Mr Muldoon also said all independent schools are required to budget for a surplus each year so they are eligible for state and federal government funding.
"The government doesn't like funding schools that are financially unviable," he said.
Save Our Schools, in a statement, said they believe the group of 33 schools could have weathered the cost during the height of the pandemic without the support of JobKeeper.
"Government (Commonwealth and state) funding for private schools increased by much more than for public schools between 2009 and 2019. Government funding for Catholic and independent schools increased by $1,636 and $1,664 per student respectively, adjusted for inflation, compared to only $1,095 per student for public schools," the statement reads.
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