School closure hits 520 students

17 Oct

Victoria

Date

October 17, 2012 – 8:30PM

  • 13 reading now
  • Comments 52

Jewel Topsfield

Jewel Topsfield

Education Editor for The Age

View more articles from Jewel Topsfield


Email Jewel



Acacia College in Mernda.

Acacia College in Mernda. Photo: Angela Wylie

THE Uniting Church has been forced to make the ”heart-wrenching” decision to close Acacia College in Mernda after receiving the ”shocking” advice it was ”saddled with debt” and ”unsustainable”.

Do you know more? Contact us at age.community@gmail.com

The low-fee private school in the heart of Melbourne’s northern growth corridor has 520 students in prep to year 9.

At a meeting of parents last night, Uniting Church moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson said a protracted legal dispute with the developer and unforseen council costs meant the school could never become sustainable.

”I speak to you with a heavy heart … We recently engaged some external experts to assist us in our planning and the result was shocking,” Ms Thomas Dobson said in a speech seen by The Age. ”The school can never become self-sufficient. It will be saddled with a debt that is growing by the minute and is unsustainable.”

The school will close on December 14.

Founding principal Andrew Houghton, who oversaw the opening of Acacia College in 2010 with just 121 students, is understood to be distressed by the closure.

Acacia College’s website says enrolments are steadily growing at the school and by 2015 it expected to have 1200 students from prep to year 12.

Ms Thomas Dobson said Acacia College, which accepted students from all faiths and backgrounds, was a wonderful school and the staff and students is second to none.

”However, the church cannot commit more money to keep Acacia going and growing.”

The Uniting Church hopes to sell Acacia College so it can continue to operate next year.

”We are in conversations with one or two other education providers, and will welcome interest from more, but I have to stand before you tonight to tell you that from the end of this year Acacia College will no longer be a Uniting Church school.”

Acacia College is the fourth low-fee independent school in Melbourne’s rapidly expanding growth corridors to close in the past two years. Mowbray College, which had campuses in Melton and Caroline Springs, closed in June following the shock revelation it had accrued more than $18 million in debt.

The closure left more than 1000 students stranded mid-year – including 276 doing VCE or the International Baccalaureate – and 200 teachers without a job.

ICA Melton College in Caroline Springs and ICA Casey College in Narre Warren South collapsed in 2010 after parent company Independent Colleges Australia went into voluntary administration.

Parents at Acacia College had become concerned there had been almost no progress in the construction of the middle school.

In recent weeks the property board of the Uniting Church became aware of cost overruns.

”Substantial costs associated with the construction arising from a complex mix of an over committed developer (now deceased) who was unable to fulfil contractual obligations, City of Whittlesea compliance related costs and a consequent legal dispute with the deceased estate rendered the project unsustainable,” the Uniting Church says in a statement.

Ms Thomas Dobson said it had been a ”heart-wrenching decision to end what had been a brilliantly run school by Andrew Houghton and his staff”. This is a decision the Uniting Church takes full responsibility for and and in no way does it reflect the sustained efforts Acacia’s professionals have made to build it into a reputable education provider,” she said.

”The Uniting Church intends to examine the true effect and reasons behind the loss.”

The closure of Acacia College raises concerns about whether there will be sufficient schools in the outer north to cater for the population boom.

In late 2010, principal Mr Houghton raised concerns in local newspaper Northern Weekly that demand for secondary schools in the outer north would go largely unmet.

”Demand for schools in this growth corridor will explode in the next five to seven years and I don’t believe this demographic has been fully catered for yet,” he said. Acacia College will make a list of school availability in the area for parents.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

In recent weeks the property board of the Uniting Church became aware of cost overruns.

“Substantial costs associated with the construction arising from a complex mix of an over committed developer (now deceased) who was unable to fulfil contractual obligations, City of Whittlesea compliance related costs and a consequent legal dispute with the deceased estate rendered the project unsustainable,” the Uniting Church says in a statement.

Ms Thomas Dobson said it had been a “heart wrenching decision to end what had been a brilliantly run school by Andrew Houghton and his staff”.

“This is a decision the Uniting Church takes full responsibility for and and in no way does it reflect the sustained efforts Acacia’s professionals have made to build it into a reputable education provider,” Ms Thomas Dobson said.

“The Uniting Church intends to examine the true effect and reasons behind the loss.”

The closure of Acacia College raises concerns about whether there will be sufficient schools in the outer north to cater for the population boom.

In late 2010, principal Mr Houghton raised concerns in local newspaper Northern Weekly that demand for secondary schools in the outer north would go largely unmet.

“Demand for schools in this growth corridor will explode in the next five to seven years and I don’t believe this demographic has been fully catered for yet,” he told the paper.

Acacia College will make a list of school availability in the area and email it to parents.

Reports will be prepared earlier than usual to assist students to enrol at other schools.

Counselling will also be provided for all students as required.

“The church realises this decision places extreme pressure on staff, parents and students and we welcome all options that will see the school having a future,” Ms Thomas Dobson said.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au


52 comments so far

  • I find it pretty disgraceful that this article is released a full half hour before the parents and school community are informed of this at a meeting that started at 7.30pm. My parents are at that meeting as my brother is in Year 7 at Acacia College, yet the general public finds out the details before those it directly concerns. So very wrong.

    Commenter
    Disgraceful…
    Location

    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 7:42PM

    • It’s not the place of the media to hold embargoes for private companies when they get in to financial strife.

      If finding out via the media half an hour before an “official” meeting is such a big issue, i’d suggest toughening up and getting over it.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 7:59PM

    • Perhaps the school or the Uniting Church should have let the students and their families know a bit earlier then.

      Commenter
      Kappa
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 8:22PM

    • i guess if your parents read the age before they went they could have saved a few hours of their lives. moral of the story is to read the age BEFORE any school meetings in the future.

      Commenter
      saving
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:18PM

    • Yes they should have Kappa, but obviously they haven’t and I just think it is poor form all around.

      And nice comment Tom. Obviously you don’t have a 13 year old sibling who now has to find a new school to attend in an area that is crying out for really good secondary schools, whether they be public or private. There are no public secondary schools between Mill Park and Whittlesea (19kms distance along the Plenty Road corridor) and with an annual population increase of 2.94% annum for the City of Whittlesea (with the vast majority of the increase being within that corridor) it is going to be pretty hard to find somewhere appropriate. But I don’t suspect that you would understand that Tom, you live in Canberra… *snore*

      Commenter
      Disgraceful…
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:38PM

    • Well I’d rather be up to date with the news than waiting to be told later on. Your attack on Kappa is baseless, he has a point, it’s not The Age’s fault for releasing information they had on hand.

      Get over it, your brother would still be crying even if The Age held off the news anyway.

      Commenter
      OnlyNews
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 11:03PM

    • Actually most media releases have an embargo.

      Commenter
      smiley
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 11:24PM

  • Who needs Jeff and the Liberals to close schools when economic rationalist churches can do it so much more convincingly as they dab a tissue at their saddened, crying eyes (while collecting millions of taxpayer $ EVERY year for another of their schools that has close to $50m revenues EVERY YEAR)? Neo-liberal economics are not compatible with civil society, hang on, make that Christian society. Something has to give, IT’S UNSUSTAINABLE.

    Commenter
    Bogue
    Location

    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 7:46PM

    • Yet another ‘new’ private school incompently managed by a half-witted board. These new private schools should be discouraged – all they do is create a further divide in the system due to aspirational parent’s unreal panic about the state of high schools, many of which are very good. Honestly, to let it get to the stage where they are $10m in debt requires some serious incompetence on behalf of the board – probably made up of do-gooder church people, interfering parents and others without financial expertise. I hope the government doesn’t cough up a cent – there should be stricter rules before well-meaning, but unskilled people start up such a venture, and parents who insist on a private school education, but can’t afford a proper, established one should lower their expectations slightly and accept the decent high schools in their area.

      Commenter
      Faniya
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:31PM

    • Faniya, I would love to send my daughter to a decent government high school in Doreen/ Mernda, oh that’s right, there isn’t one, decent or otherwise!

      Commenter
      Tanne
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:51PM

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Students and parents take to twitter

9:45pm Students and parents of a private Mernda school set to close at the end of the year have taken to social media to vent their anger over the decision.


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School closure hits 520 students

17 Oct

Victoria

Date

October 17, 2012 – 8:30PM

  • Comments 52

Jewel Topsfield

Jewel Topsfield

Education Editor for The Age

View more articles from Jewel Topsfield


Email Jewel



Acacia College in Mernda.

Acacia College in Mernda. Photo: Angela Wylie

THE Uniting Church has been forced to make the ”heart-wrenching” decision to close Acacia College in Mernda after receiving the ”shocking” advice it was ”saddled with debt” and ”unsustainable”.

Do you know more? Contact us at age.community@gmail.com

The low-fee private school in the heart of Melbourne’s northern growth corridor has 520 students in prep to year 9.

At a meeting of parents last night, Uniting Church moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson said a protracted legal dispute with the developer and unforseen council costs meant the school could never become sustainable.

”I speak to you with a heavy heart … We recently engaged some external experts to assist us in our planning and the result was shocking,” Ms Thomas Dobson said in a speech seen by The Age. ”The school can never become self-sufficient. It will be saddled with a debt that is growing by the minute and is unsustainable.”

The school will close on December 14.

Founding principal Andrew Houghton, who oversaw the opening of Acacia College in 2010 with just 121 students, is understood to be distressed by the closure.

Acacia College’s website says enrolments are steadily growing at the school and by 2015 it expected to have 1200 students from prep to year 12.

Ms Thomas Dobson said Acacia College, which accepted students from all faiths and backgrounds, was a wonderful school and the staff and students is second to none.

”However, the church cannot commit more money to keep Acacia going and growing.”

The Uniting Church hopes to sell Acacia College so it can continue to operate next year.

”We are in conversations with one or two other education providers, and will welcome interest from more, but I have to stand before you tonight to tell you that from the end of this year Acacia College will no longer be a Uniting Church school.”

Acacia College is the fourth low-fee independent school in Melbourne’s rapidly expanding growth corridors to close in the past two years. Mowbray College, which had campuses in Melton and Caroline Springs, closed in June following the shock revelation it had accrued more than $18 million in debt.

The closure left more than 1000 students stranded mid-year – including 276 doing VCE or the International Baccalaureate – and 200 teachers without a job.

ICA Melton College in Caroline Springs and ICA Casey College in Narre Warren South collapsed in 2010 after parent company Independent Colleges Australia went into voluntary administration.

Parents at Acacia College had become concerned there had been almost no progress in the construction of the middle school.

In recent weeks the property board of the Uniting Church became aware of cost overruns.

”Substantial costs associated with the construction arising from a complex mix of an over committed developer (now deceased) who was unable to fulfil contractual obligations, City of Whittlesea compliance related costs and a consequent legal dispute with the deceased estate rendered the project unsustainable,” the Uniting Church says in a statement.

Ms Thomas Dobson said it had been a ”heart-wrenching decision to end what had been a brilliantly run school by Andrew Houghton and his staff”. This is a decision the Uniting Church takes full responsibility for and and in no way does it reflect the sustained efforts Acacia’s professionals have made to build it into a reputable education provider,” she said.

”The Uniting Church intends to examine the true effect and reasons behind the loss.”

The closure of Acacia College raises concerns about whether there will be sufficient schools in the outer north to cater for the population boom.

In late 2010, principal Mr Houghton raised concerns in local newspaper Northern Weekly that demand for secondary schools in the outer north would go largely unmet.

”Demand for schools in this growth corridor will explode in the next five to seven years and I don’t believe this demographic has been fully catered for yet,” he said. Acacia College will make a list of school availability in the area for parents.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

In recent weeks the property board of the Uniting Church became aware of cost overruns.

“Substantial costs associated with the construction arising from a complex mix of an over committed developer (now deceased) who was unable to fulfil contractual obligations, City of Whittlesea compliance related costs and a consequent legal dispute with the deceased estate rendered the project unsustainable,” the Uniting Church says in a statement.

Ms Thomas Dobson said it had been a “heart wrenching decision to end what had been a brilliantly run school by Andrew Houghton and his staff”.

“This is a decision the Uniting Church takes full responsibility for and and in no way does it reflect the sustained efforts Acacia’s professionals have made to build it into a reputable education provider,” Ms Thomas Dobson said.

“The Uniting Church intends to examine the true effect and reasons behind the loss.”

The closure of Acacia College raises concerns about whether there will be sufficient schools in the outer north to cater for the population boom.

In late 2010, principal Mr Houghton raised concerns in local newspaper Northern Weekly that demand for secondary schools in the outer north would go largely unmet.

“Demand for schools in this growth corridor will explode in the next five to seven years and I don’t believe this demographic has been fully catered for yet,” he told the paper.

Acacia College will make a list of school availability in the area and email it to parents.

Reports will be prepared earlier than usual to assist students to enrol at other schools.

Counselling will also be provided for all students as required.

“The church realises this decision places extreme pressure on staff, parents and students and we welcome all options that will see the school having a future,” Ms Thomas Dobson said.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au


52 comments so far

  • I find it pretty disgraceful that this article is released a full half hour before the parents and school community are informed of this at a meeting that started at 7.30pm. My parents are at that meeting as my brother is in Year 7 at Acacia College, yet the general public finds out the details before those it directly concerns. So very wrong.

    Commenter
    Disgraceful…
    Location

    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 7:42PM

    • It’s not the place of the media to hold embargoes for private companies when they get in to financial strife.

      If finding out via the media half an hour before an “official” meeting is such a big issue, i’d suggest toughening up and getting over it.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 7:59PM

    • Perhaps the school or the Uniting Church should have let the students and their families know a bit earlier then.

      Commenter
      Kappa
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 8:22PM

    • i guess if your parents read the age before they went they could have saved a few hours of their lives. moral of the story is to read the age BEFORE any school meetings in the future.

      Commenter
      saving
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:18PM

    • Yes they should have Kappa, but obviously they haven’t and I just think it is poor form all around.

      And nice comment Tom. Obviously you don’t have a 13 year old sibling who now has to find a new school to attend in an area that is crying out for really good secondary schools, whether they be public or private. There are no public secondary schools between Mill Park and Whittlesea (19kms distance along the Plenty Road corridor) and with an annual population increase of 2.94% annum for the City of Whittlesea (with the vast majority of the increase being within that corridor) it is going to be pretty hard to find somewhere appropriate. But I don’t suspect that you would understand that Tom, you live in Canberra… *snore*

      Commenter
      Disgraceful…
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:38PM

    • Well I’d rather be up to date with the news than waiting to be told later on. Your attack on Kappa is baseless, he has a point, it’s not The Age’s fault for releasing information they had on hand.

      Get over it, your brother would still be crying even if The Age held off the news anyway.

      Commenter
      OnlyNews
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 11:03PM

    • Actually most media releases have an embargo.

      Commenter
      smiley
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 11:24PM

  • Who needs Jeff and the Liberals to close schools when economic rationalist churches can do it so much more convincingly as they dab a tissue at their saddened, crying eyes (while collecting millions of taxpayer $ EVERY year for another of their schools that has close to $50m revenues EVERY YEAR)? Neo-liberal economics are not compatible with civil society, hang on, make that Christian society. Something has to give, IT’S UNSUSTAINABLE.

    Commenter
    Bogue
    Location

    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 7:46PM

    • Yet another ‘new’ private school incompently managed by a half-witted board. These new private schools should be discouraged – all they do is create a further divide in the system due to aspirational parent’s unreal panic about the state of high schools, many of which are very good. Honestly, to let it get to the stage where they are $10m in debt requires some serious incompetence on behalf of the board – probably made up of do-gooder church people, interfering parents and others without financial expertise. I hope the government doesn’t cough up a cent – there should be stricter rules before well-meaning, but unskilled people start up such a venture, and parents who insist on a private school education, but can’t afford a proper, established one should lower their expectations slightly and accept the decent high schools in their area.

      Commenter
      Faniya
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:31PM

    • Faniya, I would love to send my daughter to a decent government high school in Doreen/ Mernda, oh that’s right, there isn’t one, decent or otherwise!

      Commenter
      Tanne
      Location

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:51PM

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Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.


Related Coverage

Students and parents take to twitter

9:45pm Students and parents of a private Mernda school set to close at the end of the year have taken to social media to vent their anger over the decision.


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