Parata ignored Education Ministry warning

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2013
Hekia Parata
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
Education Minister Hekia Parata

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Education Minister Hekia Parata ignored warnings from officials who said it could be too early to make sweeping school changes in Christchurch because of changing demographics, documents show.

Schools and the community have repeatedly told Parata the school mergers and closures were happening too quickly because people were still moving in and out of suburbs.

But Parata has maintained that parents, principals and teachers have been calling for certainty and wanted the decisions to be made quickly.

Last month she announced interim decisions to close seven schools and merge 12 into six. Another 12 schools originally proposed for closure or merger will remain open.

A Ministry of Education report, from last June, shows ministry officials told Parata the "demographic change was still uncertain, meaning it might be too early to determine the optimal approach for some school clusters".

All Christchurch schools have been grouped into community clusters based on where they are located.

The ministry report, which appears to seek some guidance from the minister, asks if she wanted the ministry to announce the entire programme or take a staged approach to "test public reaction".

Some of the changes were "less directly related to the earthquake and more related to existing issues such as non-viable schools with small rolls", it said.

The report showed the ministry had been planning, before the quakes, to spend up to $710 million over 10 years on Christchurch schools.

The renewal programme will cost $1 billion over 10 years.

It was not known how much of the additional $290m would be covered by insurance proceeds but the ministry said there would be a gap between insurance payouts and the cost of work.

Parata said yesterday the statement in the report about demographics referred to the "development, scope and activities of the Learning Community Clusters not the education network in regards to demographic change and proposed closures or mergers".

Parata said she had taken into taken into consideration projected population growth.

"The paper properly put before ministers questions of scope and approach."

She also said yesterday the $710m related to how much the ministry had believed it needed to spend over the next 10 years only if it dealt with all infrastructure-related issues at schools.

If it had decided to go ahead with the work, it would have required new government funding.

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One of the ministry's key goals, in the report, was to have the change "owned by the community", which it said, would "be heavily involved" in the more complex changes.

Parata said she had achieved that, but Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said if that was one of the ministry's goals then it had "failed dismally".

The community was feeling disenfranchised and was not confident the right decisions were being made because of the haste in which they were being implemented, he said.

Parata had been reckless because she clearly did not listen to the concerns of her officials, Hipkins said.

Central New Brighton School principal Toni Burnside said her school had had 18 unexpected new enrolments this year from 10 families who had either moved back into the area after the earthquakes, or had come to the city from the North Island for work.

This showed it was too early to make decisions on school mergers and closures, Burnside said.

Central New Brighton is set to merge with South New Brighton.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

$1 billion: What the Government will spend on Christchurch schools in the next 10 years.

$590m-$710m: What the Government believed was necessary to spend on Christchurch schools before the quakes.

$290m: The new money, but how much is coming from insurance proceeds is unknown.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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