No conflict of interest, says Parata
A new Christchurch school, which will be run by a relative of Education Minister Hekia Parata, is waiting on government approval.
The school, Te Pa O Rakaihautu, was endorsed by the ministry just weeks before work began on the overhaul of the city's education in October last year.
The Press understands the final application is lodged and awaiting approval. Te Pa is chaired by Parata's second cousin, Rangimarie Parata Takurua, sparking accusations from Labour of a conflict of interest.
It will be a character school, which is similar to a charter school. Both are state-funded and have the power to develop their own way of teaching.
Te Pa was endorsed in September last year by former education minister Anne Tolley before Parata took over the education portfolio after the November general election.
The school's website reads: "Te Pa O Rakaihautu has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education and is set to play an important role in the rebuild of Christchurch."
Questioned by The Press about Te Pa, Parata said she was not involved in the approval process and there was no conflict of interest.
"I think there will be a perception of conflict of interest, so I am making arrangements with associate ministers of education to manage that process, so that there is no perception of conflict of interest," she said.
"The proposal has not . . . been finalised by the proposers and hasn't . . . come to ministers for consideration. It will be considered along with all of the other options."
Labour associate education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was a clear conflict of interest that should have been revealed.
He said the ministry was working to "clear the decks" for privately run schools.
“Hekia Parata's potential conflict of interest extends beyond the approval of this school's application, given [that] its viability will be directly impacted by all of the other decisions she'll be making," he said.
He was "really worried the Government are going to use the education renewal process as a chance to clear the decks for charter schools and other types of private providers".
The ministry announced proposals last month to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 25 through some form of merger. Seven out of 10 schools offering immersion or bilingual Maori education are earmarked to close or merge.
Despite a consultation period for affected schools beginning last month, the ministry has never mentioned that it endorsed Te Pa.
It was not mentioned in the Maori questionnaire process in May, in which ministry representatives attended a kapa haka competition and school hui to collect feedback on ideas, none of which included closing or merging schools.
Parata Takurua, along with the school board, applied more than a year ago to become a designated character school to provide Maori immersion education from preschool through to tertiary on one site. She wanted to open Te Pa to provide "another choice for our whanau, the majority of whom are in the mainstream. We do not support anything that will shrink or diminish Maori education provision in the city," she said.
Parata Takurua said her relationship to the minister had prompted speculation of an "advantage," but she had been kept in the dark on the approval process.
"Since her appointment as minister I have only ever dealt with ministry staff in the Christchurch regional office," she said.
"We . . . do not know ourselves where our application is currently sitting. . ."
- State schools with a particular character that sets them apart from ordinary state schools and kura kaupapa Maori.
- There is little separating character schools from charter schools. Both are state-funded and have the power to develop their own way of teaching.
- Those behind it must prove there is a need for the school, that people want to enrol and that there is no other school in the area that could provide a similar style of education.
- Christchurch has two successful character schools, established by former mayor Vicki Buck - Discovery 1 and Unlimited.