Public school principals struggle to manage overwhelming budgets leaving millions unspent
Millions of government funding has gone unspent by NSW public schools as over-burdened principals struggle with budgeting pressures.
Education Department figures show schools had accrued about $1.3 billion at January 1 this year, with about two thirds of that built up since 2014.
More than half is funding from NSW and federal governments, and the remaining $635 million is revenue accumulated over more than a decade from fundraising by schools and parents, according to the department.
Although public schools do not have their own bank accounts, principals access a budget from the department's account.
Schools can spend the money on extra support teachers, professional development, or equipment - services previously provided by the department.
The system is designed to give schools more freedom about how they spend their funds, but Greens MP David Shoebridge said it puts too much pressure on already over-burdened principals to manage complex budgets.
"Not only do they have to be an educational leader, they have to become construction managers as well," he said.
"Imagine trying to manage a $700,000 construction project. That would completely overwhelm any principal."
Mr Shoebridge said certain responsibilities should be handed back to the department.
"We need an adequate backbone in the Department of Education to manage this so that principals can focus on providing children with quality education instead of being construction project managers," he said.
NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour said the reasons behind the unspent funding were complex.
"It's not as cut and dry as saying 'just spend the money'," he told Nine.com.
"There is an element of conservatism among public school principals when it comes to spending money, but the far bigger problem at play is time and capacity.
"Being a principal is already a full-time job and an extremely stressful job at that. If you give them the responsibility of managing major sums of money you've just doubled their workload."
Mr Seymour said there's still uncertainty among principals about the figures and balancing their budgets, making principals even more cautious not to over-spend.
"We've never had this kind of money before and principals aren't spending a lot because they are worried there won't be any left," he said.
Mr Seymour said a shortage in casual teachers at certain schools is also contributing to funding going unspent.
Griffith Public School principal Jude Hayman said regional schools often had money to spend on casual or specialist teachers – but couldn't because they were not available.
"We have the luxury of having that money and we need to have a speech therapist in the classroom, but we don't have one to employ," she said.
Miss Hayman said many schools who would like to provide their teaching staff with professional development days but to do so require hiring casual staff.
"We would happily spend that money, but we can't because we don't have those people to employ," she said.
She said including human resources and teacher salaries in the funding system had also made it more more difficult for principals.
"We're not accountants," she said.
"We're teachers, first and foremost, that's our job and that's where we want to focus our attention."