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Steiner school struggles with debt

Dawn Blackwell, of Mullumbimby, and her son Rowan, 8, a student at Shearwater Steiner School are such strong supporters of the school they moved from England so Rowan could attend.
Dawn Blackwell, of Mullumbimby, and her son Rowan, 8, a student at Shearwater Steiner School are such strong supporters of the school they moved from England so Rowan could attend. David Nielsen

THE Blackwells were so impressed by what they saw at the Shearwater Steiner School at Mullumbimby that not only did they wait two-and-a-half years for available places for their children, but they also packed up their family home and moved from England.

Yesterday Dawn Blackwell said she was shocked to hear the school’s board had called in administrators as it struggled under a mountain of debt.

“That’s news to me. They aren’t going to close are they?” Mrs Blackwell asked as she picked up eight-year-old Rowan from school.

The school’s board appointed administrators Mark Robinson and Stephen Parbery of PPB last Thursday.

Yesterday, the school that has about 650 students from kindergarten to Year 12, directed all media inquires to Sydney-based PPB.

Mr Robinson said the current board had brought the school’s cash flow under control, but was unable to paydown the ‘debt overhang’.

He said whether the school remained open depended on the outcome of a creditors meeting, and on parents keeping their children at the school and paying fees.

While declining to reveal the size of the debt, Mr Robinson confirmed the school would remain open at least until Friday’s creditors meeting, and that all staff wages had been paid.

He could not confirm that other entitlements, such as superannuation, had been met.

Mr Robinson said secured and unsecured creditors, who will attend a meeting at Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club on Friday, will be asked toaccept part-payment of the money they are owed.

Shearwater Steiner was founded in 1993 with only 37 students but quickly grew to become one of the largest Steiner schools in the country.

“We came here on holidays and to check out the school,” Mrs Blackwell said.

“We didn’t want to send our children to a state school and were impressed with the child-centred ethos of this school.

“It’s just gorgeous; it’s very close to nature.”

But it doesn’t come cheap. Annual fees range from $4000 to almost $7000, depending on the year of study.

“I have heard that unpaid school fees are a big problem,” Mrs Blackwell said.

“I know parents have taken jobs just to pay them.”

Another parent, Scott Dutton of Bangalow, who received a letter from the school informing him of the appointment of administrators, said rumours about the school’s financial health had been circulating among parents for a couple of months.

“It would be very annoying if it closed. I don’t know what we would do,” he said.



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