Tax firm joins in fight for school

Richmond's Salisbury School has received the backing of a tax refund company to help finance its ongoing fight for survival.

The school survived a planned closure last year, but the board is now concerned that Education Minister Hekia Parata will again try to shut the school and move the girls to a co-educational residential school in Christchurch.

Its roll has been halved and parents who wish to enrol their daughters at the school must now go through a ministry panel which lacks Salisbury or parental representation.

Salisbury's board chairwoman Helen McDonnell has said the school would fight to stay open, with the fight including challenging whether Ms Parata should be the one to make the final decision.

Now Nelson-based tax refund company has pledged to help financially support the school during the next phase of its battle to stay alive. chief executive Lester Binns said he wanted to set up a "Friends of Salisbury" association which could fundraise, lobby and advocate for the school.

His company would donate money, but also help with a larger campaign, including encouraging other businesses and individuals to donate and helping with logistics like website building.

"We can at least encourage the ministry to look at the facts as they are, without pre-conceived ideas."

The company, processes tax refunds from the Inland Revenue Department for people who do not have the time or skills to do so themselves.

Last year the company processed $34 million worth of refunds, making it the second-largest company in the sector.

Mr Binns said he had worked with the school's lawyer, Mai Chen, in the past and he offered his help when he heard of her involvement in what he felt to be a case of the ministry trying to fundamentally change the education system.

He had been a primary school teacher before he moved into business, and had seen first-hand the benefits of special residential schools then, he said.

Mr Binns said he had a family friend whose son had struggled at school before he went to Halswell Residential College, and said the student was now doing much better.

He was also concerned about the impact on the community should a large and important employer such as Salisbury School close.

"It's people's jobs going. A lot of people provide services to the school. If it's something that's needed why can't we keep it in Nelson?

"It's so important to the area financially and so important to a lot of families - and they [residential special schools] work."

He had also seen reports of principals around the country who said they would struggle to accommodate some of the students who currently attended residential special schools.

"If I had a young daughter who had special requirements I would be absolutely terrified as to where she could go.

"It sounds like the ministry has taken enrolments down and won't send people to the school."

Mrs McDonnell said it was great to have a successful local businessman publicly supporting the school.

"We met with Mr Binns for the first time this week, and his energy for our cause matches ours, so we are very pleased to have his business' support to add to those who already support us."

A spokeswoman for Ms Parata offered no comment when asked whether the minister had plans to meet with the school, saying she was still considering issues raised by the High Court decision last year.

The Nelson Mail