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Tensions flare at super school meeting

By Ashlea Witoslawski

It was stormy outside and within the walls of St Augustine’s Parish Hall as tensions flared during a special super school meeting last night.

What began as a civil meeting, neatly moderated and controlled, quickly diminished when it came to question time.

Organised by community activist and founder of the Stop Shepparton’s Super School Facebook group Robyn Boschetti, the meeting attracted about 250 people.

Many were spectators, ready with a listening ear, while others came with binders of information and a number of questions ready to ask.

After several months of planning and invitations delivered to a number of key stakeholders, the panel included State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, State Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell, Shadow Minister for Education Cindy McLeish, City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe, Department of Education and Training regional director Terry Bennett, Department of Education and Training area director Cord Sadler, Greater Shepparton College (interim name) executive principal Genevieve Simson, Department of Education and Training deputy secretary Steven Gniel and the Victorian Schools Building Authority chief executive officer Chris Keating.

Ms Boschetti addressed the group, sharing her disappointment in Victorian Education Minister James Merlino, who declined invitation to sit on the panel.

Officials shared their own opinions and thoughts at the beginning of the evening, before the floor was opened to the public’s questions.

A large line formed behind the microphone with major concerns surrounding transport options, congestion around the proposed school site, parking, bullying, and subject options to name a few.

The panel were hit with a large number of questions about the future of secondary school education in Shepparton during the meeting.

Mr Bennett was first in the hot seat in regards to a lack of community consultation.

"Consultation here was significantly higher than in other areas," he said.

"We acknowledge we could have done better in the communication process."

Mr Keating spoke to the new building site location several times, attempting to assure people the VSBA was working hard to make sure mistakes made with other school mergers across the state would not happen in Shepparton.

"If we always put barriers in front of this, we will never do anything," he said.

Ms Simson discussed curriculum across all year levels, fast-tracked study options and VCE and VCAL subject selection.

Ms Sheed spoke about funding and the importance of establishing integrated early learning centres, after a crowd member expressed her fear about a future "super primary school".

In response to this question, Ms Lovell said she believed the plan had "started at the wrong end", an opinion celebrated by the crowd with cheering and clapping.

As the night drew on, the crowd began to grow rowdier, comparable to question time in Parliament, with maybe a few more profanities thrown out.

Shepparton's Leanne Baldi supported by event organiser Robyn Boschetti during her question. 

One of the most powerful moments of the evening came towards the end, when Shepparton’s Leanne Baldi stepped up the mic sharing her disdain for having her seven children spread across six schools next year.

"If you’re willing to spend $100 million on a building, give each of the schools $25 million and let them do what they want," Ms Baldi said through tears as the audience erupted in applause.

After the question time was extended for an extra 35 minutes, Ms Boshetti addressed the crowd.

"We as a group will keep fighting for our children’s educational future," she said.

She praised the support of Ms Lovell and insisted the plan be paused for an independent review to be carried out.

"It must be completed by an independent panel," she said.

After asking for a seconder to move her motion, she was spoiled for choice as majority of the room raised their hands.

"Looks like the motion is carried."

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