Tararua schools avoid the axe

21:14, Aug 21 2009

The working party that called for the closure of eight Tararua Schools has withdrawn its proposal and broken up.

A 26-page proposal created by the community-appointed Bush Education Plan Working Group sent shockwaves through the district last month, when it called for the closure of Ballance, Hillcrest, Kumeroa-Hopelands, Makuri, Mangamaire, Mangatainoka, Papatawa and Woodville schools.

The district's 758 primary-aged children would be divided between two existing schools in Eketahuna and Pahiatua, and at the closed Woodville school, which would re-open under a different name.

Demographic trends, falling rolls, the size of the district, and transport issues were cited by the working group as reasons for the closures.

But the community reacted with abhorrence to the document, and last week made their feelings clear when the working group fronted up for a series of public meetings.

Yesterday the group's facilitator Richard Thompson, who was appointed by the Education Ministry, emailed all the affected schools, telling them the group would be disbanding, and withdrawing its proposals.

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"The working group has met and made the decision to immediately withdraw its Proposals for Consultation," the email said.

Submissions would still be received until August 24, then forwarded to Education Minister Anne Tolley.

The group was meant to process the submissions and make a final recommendation to the minister, who has publicly stated she won't close the schools against the community's wishes.

"It is up to these communities to decide how best to educate their children. If they want the schools to stay open, then I will not be closing them," Mrs Tolley said.

Mr Thompson declined to comment on the issue last night, saying he had been told the ministry would make any comments.

The ministry could not be reached.

But Woodville School deputy principal Pam Huddleston said she spoke with a member of the working group yesterday, and the group had reached the decision on Sunday night.

While it was a victory for the schools, she felt bad for the working group members, she said. "They've been basically held up as a scapegoat by the ministry."

The group members, who included Tararua Mayor Maureen Reynolds, all had to continue living in the community, Mrs Huddleston said. "It's been a very cruel time for them."

Mangamaire School principal Kirsty Silvester said she felt the group had backed down to an extent, but said the community backlash against the group meant it would have struggled to create any other proposals.

The Manawatu Standard