Board gives 'best shot' at saving school

A final decision on the future of Richmond's Salisbury School is expected next month, after representatives of the school met with Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday.

The school has been fighting an August decision by the minister to close the school, catering to girls with special needs for nearly a century, as part of a revamp of special education.

Under the plan, Salisbury and Christchurch's McKenzie Residential School would be closed, Christchurch's Halswell Residential College would provide co-educational services for learners with intellectual impairment, and Auckland's Westbridge Residential School would provide co-educational services for learners with complex behavioural needs.

A new "wraparound" tailored service would also be expanded.

Salisbury now has 65 students from around the country, all with complex intellectual needs and, if the plan goes ahead, they will either be moved to Christchurch or return to local schools.

Unions say the 62 staff employed by the school would struggle to find work in the new system.

The school's board of trustees submitted its response to the proposal, asking for a meeting with the minister to discuss alternative plans.

Yesterday board members Helen McDonnell, Peter Campbell and Kelly Woods, all of whom either have had or still have daughters at the school, and principal Brenda Ellis met with Ms Parata and Nelson MP Nick Smith in Ms Parata's office.

Chairwoman Mrs McDonnell said the meeting had been positive.

The school had presented an alternative proposal which cut down the cost of the school, and the minister had assured the school's representatives that she would consider that proposal.

"You had the feeling that she was really listening. We came away thinking that we had given it our best shot."

The school understood that the system would not stay the same, and was keen to work with the ministry to find alternatives that still saved money, she said.

Dr Smith said he felt the meeting was constructive, and Ms Parata had given the school a very fair hearing.

There was broad agreement that there needed to be change, and that some form of restructure was inevitable, he said.

"While Salisbury has provided a good service, that may be bettered by providing improved follow-up when students leave the residential school and communities."

He told Ms Parata, Nelson was a community that was very committed to Salisbury and it worked with students with intellectual disabilities.

"The minister made plain that she had not made a final decision and she wanted to consider the submissions."

There was no question Ms Parata had a strong affinity for students that came from disadvantaged backgrounds and was passionate about improving how the education system worked, he said.

Ms Parata said a final decision would be made by November.

Until then she would not be making any comments on the submissions, but the information provided in the submissions and presented in the meetings would inform her final decisions.

"My most important focus throughout this process has been to ensure that these children, their parents/whanau and local schools get the support and services they need for those children to succeed at school and in their communities."