Staff outraged over 'unfair' school merger

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
Strathmore Community School
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

MERGER IMBALANCE: Teacher aide Fiona Hill, left, parent Rosa Mapu, teacher aide Candy Hawkins and teacher Jo Carter outside Strathmore Community School.

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The merger of two Wellington eastern suburbs schools has been condemned as more like a takeover by staff at one of the schools.

Strathmore Community School and nearby Miramar South School will close at the end of this year and be replaced by a school of about 146 pupils on the Strathmore site next year.

But while the deputy principal, three teachers, a teacher aide and an office administrator from Miramar South will have jobs at the new school, only one teacher and a caretaker from Strathmore have been chosen.

The community is outraged, and Strathmore Community School principal Pele Tui says that though the staffing selections may be legal, the situation is unfair.

Only staff on permanent contracts were guaranteed jobs, and Strathmore was forced to relinquish its permanent roles when its roll plummeted in about 2007.

When numbers recovered in 2010, and three teachers were due to be put on permanent contracts, the upcoming merger put a freeze on new appointments.

"We don't want to come across like having sour grapes, but these are just the facts," Ms Tui said.

"It appears there is an imbalance for our children and our families."

Teacher Jo Carter said she had been called three times in August by members of the merged school's board of trustees to say her job was safe.

"They said there was a courier coming that day with contracts for us to sign for positions in the new school."

Days later, a merger board member arrived at the school to say this was not the case, and staff would have to "jump through hoops" to apply for jobs.

Staff were devastated by the handling of the merger. "Apart from their site, [Miramar South] have lost no personnel through the process. We've lost just about everybody."

Teacher aide Fiona Hill, who helps with special needs pupils, complained that the new arrangements amounted to a "takeover", not a merger.

She feared children would not cope when they turned up next year to see unfamiliar buildings and faces. "They will freak out.

"In these schools, they need the love, they need the care and familiarity. I'm just worried."

Parent Rosa Mapu's 7-year-old son has learning disabilities and health problems, and she said it took years for him and his teachers to learn to communicate.

His improvement had been dramatic. But she was concerned about how he would cope in a bigger school without a one-on-one teacher aide.

New board chairman Wayne Lowther said the idea of a takeover was "rubbish". "It was a very rigid process."

He was aware of the unhappiness among Strathmore staff, but mergers were always going to be fraught. "Dare I say it, it's life."

The recruitment had been "top notch", and he did not think any Strathmore teachers had been led to believe they had jobs back in August.

Communication could have been better, but "to get a school up and running in six months is actually a big ask".

"I think children adapt very quickly, and I don't think it's a concern teachers changing."

The school would start the first term at the Miramar site while construction was completed, then it would move to the Strathmore site.

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THE STORY SO FAR

December 2011: Merger announced, with new school to be on the Strathmore grounds

March 2012: Call for board member nominations

May: Board members and chairman announced

August: Miramar South deputy principal Kyran Smith announced as new principal

September: New name, Te Rotokura School, announced after it was gifted to the board by local iwi Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o te Ika. Withdrawn soon afterwards

November: Three teachers, a principal, a teacher aide and an office administrator given jobs from Miramar South. One teacher and a caretaker offered jobs from Strathmore Community School. Three teachers to come from outside the community

February 2013: New school – still nameless – starts at temporary Miramar site, term one

May 2013: New site at Strathmore opens, term two

- The Dominion Post

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