Sunday, January 18, 2009

Demolish the evidence

During the week, I went past Drummoyne Public School and found that there was no need to remove graffiti from the brick structure that had just had a fence put up in front of it - because the plaground had been torn up and the brick structure demolished. It looks like the school is getting a new playground.

However, there is still graffiti on the boundary walls in three separate locations.

The history of this problem is as follows:

  • Emailed the school in August, asking them to remove the graffiti.
  • Wrote a letter to the Principal of Drummoyne Public in October - never got a response.
  • Rang the Education Department in November, spoke to the Project Manager responsible for works in this area
I gave up on the school this week and wrote to our local MP, Angela D'Amore. I am not expecting to get anything useful back from her - the usual response in situations like this is to write an excuse, apologise and promise that it will never happen again, etc etc etc.

I would laugh if part of the excuse was that the graffiti was not removed because the demolition of the brick structure was "pending". Well, I initially reported it in August, which meant it was "pending" for nearly 6 months.

Angela has stood up in Parliament and proclaimed that graffiti should be removed within 24 hours, which means that the 6 months that it took the school and the Department of Education to do nothing is slightly outside the parameters that she herself has set.

Furthermore, if that was the case, why was the graffiti left on the external walls that are not being demolished? I can understand (partly) not removing graffiti from a structure that was scheduled for demolition, but that does not provide an excuse for leaving the rest of it in place.

Another excuse might be that the school never recieved my email and letter (but the department did get my phone call). If they never got my letter and email, so what? I shouldn't need to write to them in the first place - surely someone on the teaching staff must have noticed this graffiti at some point? Do all the staff drive to the school in such a way that all of them take a route that avoids the graffiti? Do none of them ever walk out of the school grounds and have a look at what the place looks like from outside?

Just out of interest, I visited the Education Department's website and did a search for "graffiti" to see if I could find a policy relating to graffiti removal.

No luck. There's nothing there.

In July last year, I discovered just how difficult and cumbersome the Department's graffiti removal process is. Five Dock Primary was vandalised during the school holidays, and I was trying to track down someone to get it cleaned up before school resumed.

I rang the security hotline that covers all public schools. That was a waste of time, as school security and the hotline are outsourced to a security contractor, and the contractor has no obligation to or means of contacting the Department or the Principal of the school concerned to let them know that a school has been vandalised. Strange, but that's what they told me. They told me to call the Principal, who I couldn't reach as it was holiday time.

I then rang the Department and managed to find a manager who knew what to do. The process for removing graffiti has to be initiated by the Principal of the school concerned. The Principal has to report it to the Police, get a COPS event number for the incident, then put in an insurance claim. Once the claim has gone through, they contact the Spotless Cleaning helpdesk, and Spotless come out and clean it up.

I presume that if there is no COPS event number or insurance claim number, then nothing is done.

That sounds like a lot of paperwork and bother to me, and it would not surprise me if the Principal concerned just couldn't be bothered, having enough other things to worry about. The Principal might not even know that it is their responsibility to do anything about it - they might have assumed that the Property Department will magically find out about it and take care of it. It's not unusual for public servants to not know about the ins and outs of every departmental process and policy.

However, if the Principal does know what they have to do, but couldn't be bothered actioning the paperwork, then I don't know if they have any discretion in this matter. This is why I went looking for a policy on graffiti removal - which I couldn't find.

If you ask me, the Department should simply empower Councils to cleanup graffiti on school property. Our council has a database that is hooked into the COPS system, so when the council logs an instance of graffiti, it is automatically passed through to COPS. If the councils and the Education Department then want to bicker about costs, the council can send the department a bill, and the department can then submit an insurance claim to cover it. They should do the cleaning first, and not wait for all the paperwork to go through.

If the Education Department doesn't trust our local councils, then we are in a pickle.

If things were done that way, this graffiti would have been removed within a day or two back in August, rather than still being there today.

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