Let's hope schools proposal isn't just about money

TAHU POTIKI
Last updated 08:59 28/09/2012
Wira Gardiner and Hekia Parata
Kent Blechynden

POWER COUPLE: Wira Gardiner and Hekia Parata.

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OPINION: The way things are going Education Minister Hekia Parata may make history yet.

If she ends up being burnt in effigy by the irate citizens of Christchurch it is probably the only time in New Zealand's political history a husband and wife have both been burnt in effigy by an angry mob.

Many will remember the burning of a Wira Gardiner guy during the consultation on the Government's fiscal envelope policy while he was chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri. This is most certainly not what she wants to be remembered for but we all know the issue of closing or merging schools is fraught with emotional turmoil.

With the benefit of distance from all the post-disaster traumatic events, such as despair over EQC and insurance companies, the uncertain futures and grief over disintegrating communities and a seemingly non-communicative autocratic leadership model, I can see that nearly everyone is in a no-win situation. But then that is also how it is most often relayed to the rest of New Zealand. 'Here is another screw-up, more disgruntled people and another terrible decision.'

I am not convinced that this is actually what is happening.

I cannot truly appreciate the magnitude and complexity of issues that are facing Cera, the Christchurch City Council, the Canterbury District Health Board, Canterbury University and government departments such as the Education Ministry. But I, perhaps erroneously, have assumed that there is a high degree of communication, information sharing and strategic cohesiveness at the senior leadership level.

We all know that it is a brave person who interferes with a community's school, and talks of closures and merger can only ever result in an angry backlash and that is fair enough in an environment where people feel uninformed. If the communication has been badly handled or the strategic and ideological thinking behind the decisions has been withheld then that is an indictment on the ministry and can only fuel the fire.

But in their actual proposal I would have expected that the ministry is taking all sorts of things into consideration and that they would have been informed by Cera about which communities are going to grow the quickest and to the largest size, which communities are expected to cope with new populations from outside of New Zealand, population projections across the city for the next 25 years, including where Maori, who may want unique Maori education services, are expected to be living or congregating.

In a more perfect world one would hope that these projections are based not only on attempts to predict random events but grounded in a proposed policy and planning framework that would influence how these rebuilt communities are going to evolve. There is clearly a correlation between the quality of community and social policy and the successful integration of immigrant families into established communities. Such thinking must be affecting the decision-makers.

It certainly gave me confidence to see the proposal to provide dedicated furnished houses for immigrant workers coming in to the city, as opposed to workingmen's camps. Not because I think, or know, that it is the right solution from a policy perspective but simply because it is clear evidence of strategic thinking around social policy for another major event about to flood across the city.

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Christchurch City Council flexibility about available project funding is also reassuring so long as the co- ordinated strategic approach is adopted when it comes to allocation. It appears to be the accepted truth now that a co- ordinated rebuild of a damaged city like Christchurch needs to be under way within three years of the disaster event to improve the chances of success.

All of the complex moving parts of the rebuild machine will be aware of this and will surely be working to improve the chances for the city.

There are immediate basic needs such as secure homes for citizens, zoning, insurance and EQC payouts resolved, as well as important buildings and facilities in place for the big civic institutions that need to efficiently carry out their duties on behalf of the city.

Once the hump of domestic and civic recovery is crossed then the more complex issues will kick in and the preparation for that has to be occurring now.

The proposal announced by the Education Ministry, which is currently being consulted on, has suffered all manner of accusations including introduction of ideology by stealth.

To be honest I really hope there is some ideology at work here but that it isn't simply about less money equating to fewer schools.

I would hope that it is a reflection of genuine preparedness for a new breed of, yet unseen, city here in the South Island that has to welcome 30 to 40 thousand new citizens in the next 10 years.

- The Press

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