Opposition MPs call for Hekia Parata's resignation on back of charter school closure
Labour has joined NZ First in calling for Education Minister Hekia Parata to be sacked over the handling of a Northland charter school that was forced to close just two years after opening its doors.
Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, whose future has been uncertain since a final performance notice in July, will officially close on March 7 after Parata concluded the challenges facing the charter school are "too great to overcome".
Labour echoed a call from NZ First for Parata to be held accountable for the closure, with the party's education spokesman Chris Hipkins saying the "buck stops with the minister".
"She's either not reading - or not following - or simply ignoring the ministry's advice," he said.
The Post-Primary Teachers' Association is blaming the authorisation board, who recommends charter school applications to the minister, for "deliberately ignoring warnings" about the risk of setting up a school in Whangaruru.
But NZ First's education spokeswoman Tracey Martin says it's Parata that needs to be sacked, not the authorisation board.
"At the end of the day the board was put together to promote charter schools. They did their job, really, but the minister overrode her own advice from the ministry."
Parata ordered a specialist audit in October after giving the school a second chance in July - despite an independent audit advising against it.
This came on the back of a final warning in February last year after a number of serious concerns were raised including bullying, drugs and poor attendance.
Parata decided to close the school based on a number of challenges, including the school's heavy reliance on third parties to take it forward, a lack of internal capability, the difficulty of attracting suitably qualified teaching staff and concerns over whether there are enough students to keep the school afloat.
She said the decision to close the school, which was one of the first five to open in 2014, was not a reflection on the Trust Board's efforts or capabilities.
"The current Trust Board has worked hard, been extremely professional and acted in the best interests of the kura's students throughout."
"The Ministry of Education is working with the Trust Board, students and whānau to help the students to transition to other education options," Parata said.
WHAT THE OPPONENTS SAY
But Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the Government had "experimented" on the Northland students, of which there are 39 left who will need to be transitioned to a new school.
"The Minister of Eduction must not wash her hands of the children of Whangaruru. These kids were the unwitting victims of the charter school experiment and the Minister must now promise all the resources that they need to ensure their education can be salvaged."
Delahunty said there was never any evidence that charter schools would benefit Maori children, kids with special needs or those from poor families - adding that the school model had "gambled with our kids' future".
PPTA president Angela Roberts said the closure of the school was predicted two years ago because of the warning bells around opening a school in such a "risky community".
ACT leader David Seymour, who is under-secretary to Parata and oversees charter schools, said the closure was a failure and is "extremely disappointing".
But Seymour said the policy wasn't a failure and having the ability to close schools when they don't perform was a "strength" of the model.
Of the 39 students still on the school's roll, Seymour said 13 were receiving intensive wrap-around support and the remaining 26 had been enrolled in either a tertiary course or another school.
The school, which has been plagued with problems since it opened has received about $4.8 million in taxpayers' money and it is unknown whether $1.6m of assets will be recouped by the Government.
Seymour said lessons had been learnt from the way the schools were funded and establishment costs had been cut and funding was now student-based rather than school-based.
In December Parata met with the school's board and told them she proposed to terminate the contract.
The school has received $3.2m in operational funding in the last two years and prior to its opening, the trust received $1.6m for establishment costs, which the school used to buy a farm.
Parata said in the case of state schools the ministry owns the land and assets, but in this case the ministry would have to go into "commercial negotiations".
Seymour said more charter schools were due to open at the beginning of next year and so far the authorisation board had received 26 applications and about five had been short-listed.
The Principals Federation is calling for a stop to any further charter schools in the wake of the Whangaruru closure.
"It is time to reflect on why charter schools are not a good idea for New Zealand before we waste more precious resources on this unnecessary option," president Iain Taylor said.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
* February 2014, Whangaruru charter school opens
* February 2015, Hekia Parata gives the school a final warning after serious concerns raised including drug use and poor achievement
* July 2015, independent audit advises against keeping the school open but Parata gives it a second chance saying she was concerned about where the 39 students would go.
* October 2015, a second audit of the school is carried out.
* December 2015, Parata announces she proposes to terminate the school's contract in March
* January 2016, Parata shuts the doors on the charter school, effective March 7.