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PPP deal could pay for schools shake-up

A public-private partnership or a sell-off of old school buildings could be used to fund the Government’s plan to transform the public education system.

A consultation on the future of primary schools, with a deadline of Friday, highlighted “bold changes to finally tackle the difficult and longstanding challenges that our public education system faces” but did not give an estimated cost for the overhaul.

But it did suggest the two potential revenue streams for the project.

The 85-page report said: “Some of our local private schools in Bermuda, and several public school districts overseas, particularly in the UK, have used a public-private partnership option for funding large capital development projects.

“This option was also used to successfully build the new wing of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.”

The Bermuda Hospitals Board did not have to start paying for its new $247 million wing until construction was completed and is now repaying the debt over the 30-year life span of the building.

The new airport was also controversially built under a public-private partnership.

The primary schools report spotlighted a scheme in Liverpool, Britain, where 22 schools were “developed into new, modern learning environments” over an eight-year period, which benefited more than 14,000 pupils.

The report said: “The programme generated millions of pounds from the sale of old and vacant school sites.

“These kinds of financial models will be examined in order to fund a capital development programme for the proposed parish primary schools.”

The consultation plan proposed the closure of nine primary schools, the renovation and expansion of the remaining nine, as well as the construction of a new primary school on the site of the K Margaret Carter Centre in Devonshire.

In addition, one of the closed primary schools would be repurposed into a “alternative education” school and one would be re-used as a school for children with disabilities and a centre for adults with learning and physical disabilities.

That would leave seven former primary schools, built between 1923 and 1953, available to sell.

The primary school proposal is part of a bigger education reorganisation project, to be carried out over a two to five year period, which will include the end of middle schools and the creation of new signature senior schools.

Mr Rabain told a public meeting last week he did not know how much money was spent a year on maintenance of the present 18 primary schools or how much could be saved if the number was cut to ten.

He said: “What we are doing is not about saving money or removing money from the budget. It’s about taking what we do have and spending it more efficiently.”

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, has said that though Bermuda’s economy suffered severe Covid-19 damage, he was confident the island could return to balanced budgets by 2023/24.

The Budget he presented last Friday gave no hint on how much the schools reform project was expected to cost.

The Government has hired Innovation Unit Australia New Zealand on a $2.1 million contract for two-and-a-half years to help with the redesign.

The agreement is scheduled to end in September next year.

The report promised that a blueprint for the capital development work would be drawn up once the results of the consultation were in.

It said the Government was "fully committed to fund education reform and the transformation“ of the public school system.

The report added: “Building surveys will then be conducted and a comprehensive facilities cost plan developed for the renovating, refurbishing and/or rebuilding of primary schools that align with 21st century learning facilities.

“The Government is looking at various funding models that can help supplement government funding for this critical component of education reform.”

The consultation document said a reduction in the number of primary schools would result in savings because of the “cost of managing so many schools and buildings”.

It added that total spending by the 18 public primary schools is close to $30 million a year but that did not “reflect the cost of programmes and services provided by the Department of Education or other departments, the cost of maintenance and repairs, or the considerable donations from parents, PTAs, non-profit organisations, businesses and volunteers who support schools”.

The report said: “These are valuable resources that would be better utilised and would result in improved provision and support to primary schools if they were invested and spread across fewer primary schools.”

It added resources would be better spent on fewer, more modern schools because of:

* present and anticipated future economic conditions;

* declining enrolment;

* the cost of providing education and related support services;

* the human and financial investment required to support building infrastructure, building maintenance, appropriate occupational safety and health, and IT infrastructure, across 18 ageing primary schools; and

* the need to improve education and results.

The Ministry of Education did not respond to a series of questions about the projected final bill for implementation of the proposed changes – including the proposed closure of middle schools and the introduction of three more senior schools.

The new Berkeley Institute, which opened in 2006 with capacity for about 700 pupils, cost taxpayers about $125 million after it ran millions of dollars over budget.

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Published March 09, 2021 at 8:30 am (Updated March 10, 2021 at 2:30 pm)

PPP deal could pay for schools shake-up

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