Family in need (l-r): Greg, Dylan and Hayley Wilkinson.
Family in need (l-r): Greg, Dylan and Hayley Wilkinson. The Northern Star/Jacklyn Wagner

Govt financial cuts hurts country kids

EVERY school day for the past year a taxi has turned up at the Goonellabah doorstep of nine-year-old Dylan Wilkinson to take him to Casino West School.

The State Government picks up the tab for the $170 round trip, totalling $850 a week, because it is the nearest school with space for Dylan in its special needs program for children who suffer from attention deficit disorder.

“It took us a couple of months to get him in, but he has improved a lot and we are now trying to transition him back to Lismore Heights Primary for two days a week,” his father, Greg Wilkinson, said.

Nicole Major, country organiser of the NSW Teachers' Federation, said many students with special needs were forced to travel long distances due to the lack of adequate facilities.

Ballina and Lismore both have schools with support facilities for special needs students, but places are limited and many students require purpose-built schools.

“The transport issue is a big concern, but until there are more specialist units about that is the best option that they have,” Ms Major said.

The State Government could not provide figures for the total cost of transporting young children with disabilities across the region. However, it spent $34,850 paying a private taxi company to get Dylan to his Casino school over a year – nearly two-thirds of the $54,000 it would cost to appoint a new special education teacher to teach him and other special needs students at Lismore.

The State Government is spending $3.3 billion for special education over the next four years, including $1 million next year. There are only 19 special schools across the State for those with mental health problems, and 52 for those with an intellectual disability.

Extra funds were provided in this month's State mini-Budget to provide more teachers and improve the class size ratio for regular schools, but it did not target special needs students.

“More facilities and more teachers in school is what are needed,” Ms Major said. “That would save a lot of problems for everyone, the kids and their parents and the teachers.”

A first year special education teacher would cost the Government about $54,000 to employ.

The travelling takes its toll on Dylan and he is looking forward to returning to Lismore Heights where his older sister is a student.Still, Mr Wilkinson worries there won't be enough dedicated staff to help teach his son once Dylan returns to Lismore.

The support class for special needs kids at the school is taught by one teacher and ranges from Years 4 to 6.

“That doesn't leave him much time to deal with kids one-on-one and that's what Dylan really needs,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“The school needs more teachers, more funding and more resources.”It is a common cry from parents across the region.Ms Major said funding for children with special needs was unevenly spread across the region.“

There are a number of schools in the area that have special education units or teachers, but they aren't in every school,” she said.

Ms Major said teachers simply didn't have the time and resources to focus on children with special needs as other children would miss out.

“It is more difficult for teachers who don't have the extra assistance in the school to provide that specific support for special needs kids,” she said.

“There are some programs in all schools to provide at least some support, but to be honest it is really under-funded. Special needs is particularly under-funded.”


  • Things $34,850 can fund more than half the wage of a first-year special education teacher.
  • A Year 12 education at the prestigious Scotch College in Sydney: $17,856.
  • Meet weekly mortgage repayments for a $470,000 home loan.
  • Fly around the world 17 times. Buy about 34,850 litres of petrol.
  • Buy 1279 shares in BHP.
  • Buy a Holden Captiva CX.
  • Buy 11 Mac Air computers worth about $3000 each.

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