Schools fight to survive
Furious communities are vowing to fight rather than let eight rural schools close in the Tararua district.
A proposal was put to schools' boards of trustees on Tuesday night that would see the district's 758 primary-aged children divided between three schools.
The consultation document comes from the Bush Education Plan working group, which was appointed by the community in 2008, and is facilitated by the Ministry of Education.
The report calls for the closure of Ballance, Hillcrest, Kumeroa-Hopelands, Makuri, Mangamaire, Mangatainoka, Papatawa and Woodville schools.
This would leave two schools at Eketahuna and Pahiatua, and a third would re-open at the Woodville School site under a new name.
Demographic trends, falling rolls, the size of the district, and transport issues were listed by the working group as reasons for the closures.
The best overall outcome was for there to be three strong state full primary schools located in the three main centres, it said.
But the schools are planning to fight the move.
Kumeroa-Hopelands School principal Jo Gibbs said she was shocked the working party appointed by the community concluded all the rural schools should close.
The school's roll of 67 was growing, rural schools were the heart of the community, and parents wanted the choice, she said.
"We definitely have not gone out canvassing. Parents choose to come to us. They can't take away that parental choice. We are the backbone of the country."
She had spoken to the children about the proposed closure, and some were quite upset. One Year 7 girl told her she'd been to a bigger school, but didn't like it.
"Sometimes the bigger schools make children feel lost and lonely."
The report said no child would have to sit on a bus for more than 40 minutes, but she disputed that.
By the time it made several stops and deviations, the ride would stretch out to more than an hour.
"To do that to 5-year-olds ... I'm quite shocked."
Mandy Challies has two children at Ballance School. Losing schools would tear apart communities, she said.
"It's losing the whole heart of the community out here."
Education Minister Anne Tolley said no decisions had been made.
The report was a community initiative, and was still in the consultation stage, she said.
"The community has until 17 August to provide feedback. After this, the working group reports to the Ministry of Education, then the ministry reports to the minister who decides what happens next."
Any changes to Tararua's schools would be carefully considered, she said. "If substantial change is mooted ... a very clear legally prescribed consultation process would be followed."
Schools have indicated they will fight the proposals. An emergency community meeting was held at Kumeroa-Hopelands School last night, and another is planned at Ballance tonight.
Mangamaire School has a roll of 43.
Principal Kirsty Silvester said she was disappointed rural schools were not being valued when they were the backbone of the district. The children have been writing letters to the Education Minister to save their school.
Hillcrest School has a roll of 42.
Principal Jo Emerson said the proposal would gut the district. "The children have just been learning about the history of their school as it has been here 100 years, this year."
Makuri School has a roll of six.
Principal Keryl Kelleher said it was a tragedy for the community. "The kids can't see how it is going to better their education by moving to a bigger school, when they have one-on-one teaching here."
Mangatainoka School has a roll of 43.
Principal Anne Corkran said she was shocked by the proposal. "It guts this whole area." New Zealand's history of rural schooling was slowly being destroyed, she said.
Ballance School has a roll of 25.
Acting principal Margaret Wood said the news was like a bombshell. "The school is the heart of this community, it's not just affecting the school kids. All the schools have to fight together."
Papatawa School has a roll of 18.
Principal Louise Ilton said that last year the school went through the idea of voluntarily closing, but there was an uproar from the community. "The kids are really worried; we got the message last year and have no plan to close."
Kumeroa-Hopelands School has a roll of 67.
Principal Jo Gibbs said she was shocked the working party appointed by the community concluded all the rural schools should close. "Sometimes the bigger schools make children feel lost and lonely."
STUDENTS WOULD BE MOVED
Under the working group's proposal, three districts schools would take all the students from the closed rural schools.
The plan is for this school, with a roll of more than 100, to close, but reopen as a new school.
The working group stressed this would not mean new facilities: the existing facilities would be used and property upgrades made only as required by the combined new roll.
Deputy principal Pam Huddleston said the school was "shocked" at the suggestion it reopen as a new school. While the school would happily take new students, it did not want to lose more than 100 years of history, she said.
"We've got history to burn at this school ... what they are proposing to do is wipe our school and start again.
"There's absolutely no reason for them to do it." The school would fight the proposal, she said.
With a roll of 244, this school would remain as it is and take on extra students.
Principal Karlene Thomson said the school was in wait-and-see mode to see how the community reacted to the suggestions. She believed the school deserved to stay open, but felt for the smaller schools, she said.
"It's a huge thing that's going to affect all of the community."
The school would wait to see the outcome of the consultation, she said.
With a role of 101, this school would also remain as it is and take on extra students.
Principal Nick Beamsley said country schools had a place as part of New Zealand society and it would be sad to see so many close.
"We have the space for more students, but we don't want to be the mercenary school. The working group base their decisions on roll data, but there is no heart in that. When you only look at statistics, you miss how vibrant these schools are."
-By LAURA JACKSON, KATIE CHAPMAN and JANINE RANKIN/Manawatu Standard