2 Sep 2020

$11.7m for green school a travesty - Massey High School principal

From Checkpoint, 6:12 pm on 2 September 2020

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has apologised for an 'error of judgement' over the funding of the private Green School in Taranaki.

There was a backlash after Shaw, also Associate Finance Minister, and other ministers signed off on $11.7m to allow the school to expand.

Massey High School is a decile four school in west Auckland and home to 1700 students.

Principal Glen Denham says shelling out almost $12 million to Taranaki's privately run Green School means state schools have been overlooked.

"It's a complete lack of understanding about the need of schools in New Zealand, about their buildings. Every state school decile one to ten has leaky buildings. All of us have. There's not one," Denham said.

"$11.7 million can go a long way to helping those schools in Taranaki, or any state school. It's just a travesty. What would I do? I'd retract the funding."

He says the biggest issue for Massey High is the digital divide. 

"We still need 200 computers. Thanks to the Ministry of Education for helping our kids out but we've still got 200 computers we're missing," he said.

He wants to see a level playing field in education, where it does not matter what school you go to.

"I think decile ratings are a thing of the past but … every single New Zealand child should be able to walk to a great school, not worry about facilities, because they're all of a great standard."

Massey High School principal Glen Denham.

 Massey High School principal Glen Denham. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Green Party co-leader James Shaw initially supported funding for Green School, but has now been forced to apologise after copping backlash from both Green Party supporters and its opponents.

Shaw now wants the funding all converted into a loan.

But Green School chief executive Chris Edwards told RNZ his school had become a political football and most of the funding was going to be a loan anyway.

"Just to be clear, never ever was this a 100 percent grant. That's misinformation. The application which went through all proper procedures, was for 25 percent grant. The rest was a series of loans and as of last night my understanding is we're waiting for further information as to what that might look like," Edwards said.

James Cook High School in South Auckland's Manurewa is a decile one school, home to 1300 students who sit in dilapidated classrooms with leaky roofs and flaky exteriors.

Principal Grant MacMillan says some investment would reap huge benefits.

James Cook High School principal Grant MacMillan.

 Grant MacMillan. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

"If you had to invest $11 million on education property today, there are two things you could do. If it was a green project, take a school like ours, give us solar panels for our roofs, we'll save $110,000 a year on electricity. That gives us $600 every day to spend on our students, and we'll do that year after year after year. And 10 more schools like us would benefit as well. That'd be a massive injection," he said.

"Or take a school like ours, sure we're up for a remodel three to five years from now. We could make some temporary amendments and changes straight away to our school for the next five years, which is an entire secondary schooling for some students, to make their environment better quality, to meet their needs."

Those needs are for hands on subjects, like food technology, MacMillan said.

"This is an old space, we're looking after it, it's tidy, just very old-fashioned and outdated. With the additional funds like that to spend in a space like this we could fit it out with restaurant-quality appliances, commercial kitchen-type ovens, we could teach our students what they need to go straight into apprenticeships.

"We've got great staff, great students, just being let down by the facilities they're working in."

Jasveer Singh is Head of technology at James Cook High School, he says they have to make do with the tools and workshops they have but it's limiting the skillset of students. 

"First of all if you look at our buildings, it looks tired, it's more than 50 years old I think. If we get maybe $1 million or $2 million we can get new machinery and this will benefit our learners.

"We are in Manurewa, we need a lot of our kids to be out there working. That's our main focus at this school, looking at the school philosophy. Most of our kids want to go into jobs, especially like apprenticeships, workshops."

Massey High School Principal Glen Denhan has this message for James Shaw.

"The first rule is, if that is a bad decision, look at the process. That's what I want to understand. What was your process in thinking that this was a good idea by any stretch of the imagination."