'Astronomical' bill for Salisbury battle

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 15:15 20/06/2013
Hekia Parata
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
BACKDOWN: The decision not to close Salisbury School was made by Education Minister Hekia Parata.

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Labour says Education Minister Hekia Parata's unlawful attempts to close Salisbury School, as well as the special education consultation process, cost the taxpayer more than $270,000.

Last month the Richmond school received the news that it will stay open, after a u-turn by Parata.

The planned closure was part of a new Ministry of Education plan for special education, which included an intensive wraparound service for students, announced in May last year.

Salisbury then employed more than 70 staff and cared for 43 girls with complex needs from around the country.

After consulting with the four schools affected, Parata decided to close two and move the girls to a co-educational school in Christchurch.

Salisbury took its fight to the High Court, asking for a judicial review.

In December, Justice Robert Dobson ruled that the move to close Salisbury and place the girls in Christchurch's Halswell Residential College was unlawful and did not take the girls' safety into account.

Labour said answers to written questions had revealed that the judicial review resulted in Crown Law legal costs of $52,812.65 and court-ordered costs of $25,815.60.

Education spokesman Chris Hipkins said this "hefty sum" did not include Salisbury's bill for taking the legal action.

Parata had also revealed that the process of consulting on the future of the four residential schools had cost $191,545, which was spent on meetings, ministry travel, employee assistance programme support for the schools, and external contractors.

Taken together, the costs represented an "astronomical level of taxpayer investment for questionable gain", Hipkins said.

"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, that could have been used to support vulnerable students, being wasted because Hekia Parata isn't up to the job."

He said it was ironic that the decision to close Salisbury had been driven by "ill-conceived targets to save money".

When approached for comment, a spokeswoman for Parata said the minister was overseas.

Ministry of Education special education group manager Brian Coffey said the minister had stated that Salisbury School would remain open.

Eligible students were being referred to Salisbury and the other two residential schools that remained in the network, he said, and the Intensive Wraparound service was working alongside those schools, providing for more students and complementing the schools' work.

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Coffey said the consultation costs were to ensure the ministry had comprehensive feedback on the future provisions for students with the most significant behavioural and social needs.

"This involved feedback on the future of four residential schools - not just Salisbury - as well as the development of a new national service.

"The consultation process was vital to ensure final decisions were informed by a wide range of perspectives - parents, educators, young people, community, education sector groups, specialists and researchers."

- Nelson

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