Phillipstown, Woolston schools to merge

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR AND JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 15:07 09/04/2014

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The proposed merger of Phillipstown and Woolston schools will still go ahead, despite 18 months of legal wrangling.

Tears met the announcement from Education Minister Hekia Parata this morning that she would go ahead with the merger.

The two schools will merge onto the Woolston School site from the start of the 2015 school year.

However, school leaders have warned the fight is not yet over.

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson said the school would be consulting lawyers over next steps.

The process had been flawed and stressful leaving him feeling "at times bullied".

He said he not had a satisfactory response from the Ministry as to why the school was the one to close and looked forward to the release of an Ombudsman report into the schools' reshuffle.

"The public of New Zealand have not been presented with all the facts."

However, Simpson said his main priority was the children. "We've got to make sure the children are catered for."

He broke down in tears as he thanked his family and the community for its support for the school.

Board chairwoman Alicia Ward said the school was "not dead yet" and would fight to the death.

Without the school the community risked "fizzing and dying" she said.

Ward broke down in tears when asked how she would break the news to her three children.

Joanna Crisp's daughter had gone to Phillipstown for six years and her youngest daughter would join her next term despite the imminent closure. "It's like they've just told a family that they've got split up."

Nicola Holgate said her daughter was lucky to be finished at Phillipstown this year but was devastating news for the low decile community.

Local campaigner Brian Lloyd, who gathered 550 signatures on a petition after the first announcement, said "it's sucks, absolutely sucks".

Parata said it would be "disappointing" if the decision was legally challenged. "The judgement made it very clear that the judge felt that we had consulted well and in good faith except for the property costings,'' she said.

"We have spent a great deal of time talking with and listening to school staff, parents and wider communities to understand their views."

Parata said she made the decision with ''fresh eyes'' though the only change to the proposal was the date of the merger.

She said the Government had an opportunity to "make a generational change" to the school infrastructure.

Prime Minister John Key said the merger between the two schools was the "right move".

"In my view, it's obviously a difficult time for those families, but we've been successfully merging schools there and for the vast bulk of parents now in those affected schools, they can see that we're going to deliver better schooling facilities for them in the future.

"I think the merger with Phillipstown and Woolston was the right move in the end."

Parata said the decision would give certainty to the two schools and their communities. She said there was a surplus of primary schools in Christchurch, and Phillipstown had a small roll for a city school.

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The Woolston site would get an $11.8 million redevelopment.

The board of Phillipstown School brought a judicial review against the proposed merger.

Consultation with the communities resumed in November, after High Court Justice John Fogarty found that Education Minister Hekia Parata's decision-making process for the merger of the two schools was unlawful. Phillipstown's supporters have been fighting its closure since Parata indicated its possible merger with Woolston School in September 2012.

The judicial review found Parata failed to meet the requirements of the Education Act in two respects. First, the importance of the cost of Phillipstown continuing on its current site was mistakenly played down. Second, the financial information Parata relied on was not explained in a manner that would have enabled a critique.

TIMELINE

September 13, 2012: Education Minister Hekia Parata announces an overhaul of education in Christchurch. October/November 2012: Parata visits affected schools. About 60 people attend the Phillipstown meeting where they plead with Parata to keep the school open.

February 18, 2013: Parata tells schools her interim decisions, including that the Phillipstown/Woolston school merger will proceed at the Woolston site in January 2014. May 2013: Lawyers identify that Phillipstown School may have a strong case for a judicial review. May 23: Hundreds of Phillipstown residents march in protest down Ferry Rd to demonstrate the nearly 2km walk that children would have to take each day to Woolston.

May 29: Parata announces her final decisions, including that Phillipstown must merge at the Woolston School.

July 2013: Phillipstown School lodges papers with the High Court.

October 10, 2013: Justice Fogarty rules that the decision-making process behind the merger was unlawful.

November 1, 2013: Parata decides not to appeal, but continues consultation she assured was in good faith.

- The Press

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