Dairying downturn, high decile ratings posing challenges for rural Southland schools
The downturn in dairying and high decile ratings are creating funding challenges for some rural Southland schools.
Limehills School principal Jim Turrell said his school was dealing with uncertainty because of the dependence of the area on the dairy industry.
"One of the concerns at the moment is just the growing level of uncertainty," he said.
"Obviously, central Southland's traditionally a beef, sheep and cropping area. But over the last 15 years we've had lots of conversions to dairy. And that does have implications on the school."
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Turrell said the fact the school was decile 10 meant it received less funding than a lower-decile school.
The biggest implication was that many students moved with their families as sharemilking contracts changed. Fluctuating enrolment levels could also impact Ministry of Education funding, Turrell said.
The current roll of the decile 10 school was about 180, he said, though it was hoped it could reach 200 before the end of the year.
The current milk payout forecast is $3.90 per kg of milk-solids. The number is the lowest since the 2006-2007 season, and well below the break-even mark of $5.30 per kg.
Turrell said the school was finding ways to cope.
"It's not really about cutting programmes or axing things," he said.
"What's more likely to happen is we'll just push out schedules for replacement of things. So for example, we have a schedule for replacement of ICT (information and communications technology), for replacement of furniture, for upgrading playgrounds, for school maintenance. All of those things are probably just going to be slowed down a wee bit as we kind of hope for better times ahead."
At Lochiel School, principal Geoff Folster said the boom-bust cycle of dairying made things difficult.
"A lot of families aren't making a lot of money right now," he said.
"Being decile 10, our funding's quite limited."
Folster also said the transient nature of many families in the dairy industry had hurt the school's roll. He said the school's roll fell from 62 students to 46 in a single day last year - a loss of more than one-quarter of students at the school.
A strong parent teacher association and community support had helped the school both financially and in terms of volunteering, Folster said.
"Without them things would be tougher."
Edendale Primary School principal David McKenzie said his decile 9 school tried to anticipate shifts in student rolls caused by changes in the dairying industry.
"We expect to see certain children going and certain children coming in."
Being close to more established farms that had been in operation for a decade or more meant a bit more stability than other rural schools that might have had more recent conversions to dairying in their community, McKenzie said.
"The more recent your conversion, the higher your debt loading."
The proximity to Fonterra's Edendale plant also helped because of Fonterra's relative stability, he said.
Despite the challenges of the dairying downturn, Turrell praised the Limehills community's support of his school.
"The school is a real hub of the community, and they take great pride in their school," he said.