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Controversial Popcorn Initiative At Bondi Public School

By: Sarah Tayler, 17 March 2019

Last week all eyes were on Bondi Public School, who gave out free popcorn at lunchtime, but only to kids whose parents had paid the voluntary school fees.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported that the move had publicly shamed children leaving them humiliated, distressed and in tears.

The primary school was demanding $436 for years 1 – 6 and $460 for kindergarten students. Parents were told in a letter from Principal Michael Jones that the fees were mandatory (apart from a $46 voluntary contribution). Looked on as controversial, as according to the NSW Education department policy, all fees should be voluntary.

Referred to as the “popcorn initiative”, the move divided parents opinion, but was deemed a huge success by Mr Jones. However, Murat Dizdar, Deputy Secretary of School Operations and Performance at the NSW Department of Education, told the SMH Mr Jones’ actions did not meet the policy requirements of voluntary contributions which have been in place since 1995.

A Salty Situation 

"We as a department have reminded the principal of his obligation in respect to seeking voluntary contributions," Mr Dizdar said. "In this case, the communication provided to the families was clearly not in line with the policy. It's my understanding that the principal has put out a further communication to all parents of the school clearly clarifying that."

In NSW public schools can set their own voluntary contributions, which can be anything from $25 in some primary schools to $2,517 for senior students at schools such as Sydney Boys’ High School. The SMH went on to report that in 2017, parents in NSW paid a total of $75.4 million in contributions; Bondi Public School in particular raised $48,857 — compared to over 350 schools that raised zero funds from parents.

"The policy is very clear — that this is a decision for parents to take regarding payment, that there can be no pressure, and [that there is] no required obligation for any parent or family to meet that request," said Mr Dizdar.

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