The Age - Australia April 7, 2010
Sect's small schools given $2m in federal grants
By Jewel Topsfield
A TINY school campus in Bendigo run by the controversial Exclusive Brethren religious sect is receiving $1.2 million in federal funding to upgrade its library, despite having just 11 primary students last year.
Documents also show that the Exclusive Brethren-run Glenvale School's Swan Hill campus - which has just 16 primary students - received $800,000 for a hall under the schools building program.
Critics claim this allocation of funds provides a stark example of the poor targeting of taxpayer money under the so-called Building the Education Revolution program, which has been dogged by allegations of rorting and mismanagement.
The Australian Education Union called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to justify funding a school run by the Exclusive Brethren - which Mr Rudd while in opposition branded an ''extremist cult'' that broke up families.
Under the schools building program, which was launched in February last year to create jobs, schools of between one and 50 students are eligible for up to $250,000 in funding.
However, because the Exclusive Brethren designates new schools as campuses of existing ones, it was able to secure $2 million in funding for projects at just two of Glenvale School's 12 campuses.
A government document posted on the Australian Parliament website yesterday, in response to a question from the Greens, said Glenvale School's Bendigo campus was receiving $1.2 million for a library refurbishment, to be completed by April 30.
According to the 2009 census, the Bendigo campus had 11 primary and 42 secondary students.
But Exclusive Brethren spokesman John Anderson said it was not relevant how many students attended the Bendigo campus.
He also disputed that $1.2 million was being spent solely at Bendigo.
''The $1.2 million funding for library facilities will be spent at several Glenvale School campuses in Victoria, which are attended by about 600 students,'' Mr Anderson said in a statement.
A spokesman for Education Minister Julia Gillard said schools with multiple campuses were treated as a single school.
He said the department had been advised that the combined enrolment for Glenvale School was 206 primary students and therefore it was eligible for a $2 million grant.
The spokesman said the main library refurbishment was being done at the Bendigo campus, but Victorian Independent Schools advised that the project ''also continues to support library refurbishments across the Glenvale campuses''.
Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the case highlighted the union's concern about the allocation of federal funding when there were other schools with greater demonstrable need.
He also called on Mr Rudd to justify funding schools run by an organisation he had branded a cult in 2007.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: ''These are two new schools that don't cater for more than 20 [primary school] students each and yet they are getting $2 million. This clearly shows holes in the system which are unfair, and organisations like Exclusive Brethren are taking advantage of that.''
Glenvale School has campuses in Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Bendigo, Berwick, Hamilton, Lilydale, Melbourne, Melton, Moe, Nathalia, Stawell and Swan Hill.
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