Bishop's school closure plan under fire

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014

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A Christchurch school is questioning the "integrity" of a proposal by the city's Catholic bishop to close two schools and replace them with another.

After a long period of uncertainty and consultation, the parish in Mairehau failed to come to a consensus around the future of St Paul's and Our Lady of Fatima schools, so Bishop Barry Jones was forced to make the final call.

He proposes to close them both, and open a new 495-pupil school called St Francis of Assisi on the latter's Innes Rd site.

Our Lady of Fatima board of trustees chairwoman Noeline Soper said she had been "extremely concerned at the integrity of the consultation process".

Her staff would face job losses, which was "difficult to understand".

Catholic Education Office (CEO) chief executive Pat Lynch said the move was "absolutely earthquake-driven" after St Paul's in Dallington was damaged and became the only red-zoned school in the city. The school has been operating from a site in Edgeware since.

The process "hasn't been easy", he said. "In light of the stark reality which those two communities have faced for the last [few] years, it's most important that they endeavour to come to a common agreement for the common good."

CEO Christchurch manager Mike Nolan said opinions between both school communities were "clearly mixed" after an "extensive consultation process". "There was no consensus around either of the options and therefore [the bishop] had to make a choice."

The office had resource consent for the plans to extend the Our Lady of Fatima site and "all going well" building would start about October, Nolan said.

Education Ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said its own consultation would end on July 18, considering options for the new school to open in term three of 2015, or at the start of 2016.

Soper hoped the ministry's consultation would give more consideration to families. While her school felt for the St Paul's community, the decision was based on property rather than on what was best for the children, she said.

"We remain hopeful and ready to work for a better result than that proposed by the bishop, for our staff, for our families, but mostly for our children."

However, Casey said the ministry had "no role" in putting forward change options when integrated schools were involved.

St Paul's principal Chris Callaghan said it had been an "incredibly difficult situation", but it was time to focus on the positives.

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- The Press

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