27 December 2019

Auditor marks down Directorate on school maintenance

| Ian Bushnell
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Lyneham High School

The audit says the Directorate needs to resume rolling building condition assessments so it knows the state of its own assets. Photo: File.

ACT public schools are pulling funds from other school resources to pay for maintenance and running repairs instead of having a properly planned regime that would be more efficient and keep costs down, according to the ACT Auditor-General.

Auditor-General Michael Harris has presented a report on Maintenance of ACT Government School Infrastructure to the Speaker for tabling in the Legislative Assembly.

Mr Harris says that while the Directorate has a sound framework for the management of school infrastructure assets, maintenance is reactive rather than planned and is costing schools more than it should.

He found that school spending on repairs and maintenance was consistently above funding provided through the School Operational Allocation.

For 2017, schools were given $5.2 million but spent $6.9 million; and for 2018 spending blew out to $8.2 million after being allocated $5.4 million.

“This suggests that ACT public schools are using other components of the School Operational Allocation to pay for repairs and maintenance activities or are funding repairs and maintenance activities through other sources of revenue,” Mr Harris said.

The audit pointed the figure at the axing in 2018 of three-yearly assessments of the condition of school infrastructure, which it says has led to the Directorate not having a clear picture of the state of its own assets, and creating possible health and safety risks.

Software purchased by the Directorate in 2015 to collect building condition data has hardly been used, with information from only two of 88 schools gathered.

In 2018-19 the Education Directorate spent $26.71 million on repairs and maintenance through the Annual Works Program managed by government entity ACT Property Group, the Specific Works Program managed by the Education Support Office, through which schools submit funding requests for work needed, and by schools themselves using their annual School Operational Allocation funding.

The audit found the Directorate does not have a clear understanding whether the Annual Works Program is being delivered efficiently and effectively.

The program overshot its budget in 2018-19 due to increased maintenance costs, while the ACT Property Group charged a 12 per cent management fee on top of actual costs.

“While the Education Directorate expects to have benefits from this arrangement, through efficiencies from economies of scale and better school infrastructure management outcomes, without any documentation to justify the creation of the agreement, or baseline data against which to judge financial performance, the effectiveness and efficiency of the arrangement cannot be determined,” the audit says.

“Furthermore, the lack of information on the purpose, intention or scope of the Specific Works Program, as well as insufficient documentation to support funding decisions, impairs the program’s effectiveness and its contribution to school infrastructure management.”

The audit makes eight recommendations including the resumption of rolling building condition assessments, development of operational asset management and annual management plans, and establishing baseline data for the deal with ACT Property Group so the Directorate can judge whether it is getting value for money and be in a position to review it properly.

It also says the School Operational Allocation should be reviewed to see why schools exceeded their maintenance funding in 2017 and 2018.

The Directorate said it looked forward to progressing key issues identified during the audit.

“We appreciate that the audit recognised that the Directorate has a sound framework for the management of school infrastructure assets, including repair and maintenance activities. We also remain committed to achieving value for money in public expenditure, meeting our legislative and health and safety compliance obligations, and continually improving our school building maintenance systems and processes,” it said.

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