STUDENTS at Echuca Specialist School wear a smile from ear to ear.
They’re happy to be there, happy to be learning, happy to be with their friends and teachers.
But behind closed doors, in interviews with journalists, phone calls to politicians or in Victoria’s Parliament, the school council and staff have not been smiling for years.
They have been backed so far up against the wall they have nowhere to turn.
And that is because their school did not receive funding in the latest Victorian budget to relocate to the Twin Rivers School complex.
It is an appalling set of circumstances; so bad the school council and parents would willingly drop to their knees to beg – if they thought for even a fleeting second this government cared.
We are beyond desperate and we are most certainly beyond looking foolish for begging. There is simply nothing else this school and our community can do.
So I write to you Mr Merlino. As Education Minister you know full well we need you to fund this school.
And we needed you to fund it yesterday.
You can spin it with political doublespeak any way you like, but your government has turned its back on a school whose students are amongst the most vulnerable and needy in the wider education system.
When a principal has to shovel raw sewage from his school something has to change.
When this sewage is seeping through sinks used to clean feeding tubes or flooding the administration building, something has to change.
When there are signs on school buildings saying ‘This building contains asbestos’ something has to change.
And when a pipe bursts and there’s no water to clean tubes to feed students through their stomachs, guess what?
Something has to change.
That something should have changed yesterday. But these words are not meant to pick a fight, Minister, these words are meant to encourage immediate change.
If Echuca’s Specialist School was in Melbourne the outcry would have been overwhelming and, we have no doubt, action would have been immediate.
Surely the writing is on the wall.
If you don’t make drastic change, and make it now, there could be dire consequences.
Last week you vowed to finish what you started and you vowed to address immediate issues at the school.
But you’ve done neither.
So I am writing to you and I will plead, happily beg, on behalf of the families and staff at Echuca Specialist School, if you will do something about this school before it is too late.
A teacher’s aide told me we are no longer talking about school programs any more, and she is right.
These are lives Minister, lives that are in your hands.
What are you going to do about it?
This is no longer a request. It is a demand.
Come to the Echuca Specialist School, walk through the asbestos buildings, roll up your sleeves and help the principal shovel some shit, explain to the teachers why the school had no water on Wednesday, why its unit to burn nappies is broken.
And finally, tell the students why they can’t move into a school they were supposed to be included in.
Included. Mark that word Mr Merlino. The irony of it all is in the twin towns today is Wear Orange Day, which encourages inclusion in our community.
Every school here is on board; plus more than 110 businesses.
But are you Minister?
Because our Specialist School, in its woefully inadequate portables and failing infrastructure, lurches from day to day – alone – at its High St address. It is not included in the Twin Rivers School.
And that falls on your shoulders.
You have not embraced our special community. You must step up or hang your head in shame – and resign.