MP defends aid for NI school

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 11:30 21/06/2012

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Kaikoura electorate MP Colin King is defending the Government's prop-up of a private school in the North Island while a public school in his electorate has to repay a government loan.

The Education Ministry provided the Marlborough Boys' College Board of Trustees with a $1.325 million interest-free loan in June 2009, repayable during 13 years, after it was revealed the college had debts of more than $1.7 million, making it virtually insolvent. A failed attempt to establish an international school in China, financial ineptitude and a culture of overspending contributed to the debt.

The Marlborough Express asked Mr King whether the Government's pledge to prop up a private school, Wanganui Collegiate in the North Island, was justified when Marlborough Boys' still has to pay off its more than $1m loan.

In Budget 2012 the Education Ministry awarded Wanganui Collegiate more than $3m over two years.

Mr King said that during the John Key-led Government's first term, about $34m-$35m was distributed to private schools to keep them in operation.

He did not know about the details surrounding the Government's dealings with Wanganui Collegiate. Mr King said private schools saved taxpayers money. "The longer they can stay on their feet, the less the taxpayer spends on them."

Marlborough Boys' College board of trustees chairman Phil Robinson said the board was focused on repaying its Government loan. The loan balance was $1,025,000 at the end of April; the board was repaying the loan at $25,000 per quarter ($100k pa).

Mr Robinson said the financial situation for Marlborough Boys' and Wanganui Collegiate was "separate". "We're focused on our school – that's where our problem is."

An Education Ministry spokesman said the loan to Marlborough Boys' was made in an unusual circumstance; its board of trustees had used the Government's operational funding for other purposes. The repayment rate was equal to less than a 10th of the board's operational grant, and was considered affordable if resources were prudently managed without affecting the quality of education.

The Government remained committed to the education of young people and to parents having a choice about the schooling they want for their children, the spokesman said.

Independent Schools of New Zealand (ISNZ) executive director Deborah James said the Government was a "net fiscal beneficiary" of private schools.

"ISNZ member schools in 2012 will pay $14.5 million more in GST paid on tuition and boarding fees than they will receive in grants this year," she said. The Government could significantly increase the present subsidy to private schools and still maintain a net return.

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- The Marlborough Express

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