9 Apr 2014

School vows to keep fighting closure

10:17 pm on 9 April 2014

A Christchurch school being closed by the Education Minister after months of legal battles says the decision is tragic and has vowed to keep on fighting.

Hekia Parata has reinstated a decision to shut Phillipstown School and merge it with nearby Woolston School by the beginning of next year.

Phillipstown board chair Alicia Ward and principal Tony Simpson (right) with Ministry of Education officials in April.

Phillipstown board chair Alicia Ward and principal Tony Simpson (right) with Ministry of Education officials in April. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

Phillipstown Primary has fought against the closure since it was announced in September 2012. It got a reprieve in January this year when the High Court ordered Ms Parata to begin the consultation process again. But on Wednesday the minister announced it would be closed, despite a second round of consultation, saying the decision was based largely on new information on the buildings on the property.

Hekia Parata.

Hekia Parata says a decision had to be made. Photo: RNZ

Principal Tony Simpson said on Wednesday the consultation process has left him feeling bullied and it was a waste of time. He says the flawed process had added so much stress to an already strained community of staff, pupils and parents.

Mr Simpson told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the school would now talk with lawyers and politicians, and is awaiting the findings of an Ombudsman's report it sought into the process.

"We are seeking advice from lawyers, we are awaiting the Ombusman's report and, quite frankly, we're talking to many people from political and local body groups. There's lots that we're doing in the talking point at this stage."

Hekia Parata's announcement came 18 months after the minister first indicated her intention to close the 120-pupil primary school and merge it with Woolston as part of the Government's $1 billion post-quake overhaul of the region's education system announced in September 2012.

Under the plan, hundreds of students have been forced to find new schools after six were merged and seven closed.

The original announcement was the subject of numerous appeals and a judicial review that ordered Ms Parata to begin the consultation again.

The minister says the further 10 weeks of consultation focused on the school property, its changing value and the state of repair of the buildings. "We weighed up a whole range of factors. These included earthquake damage, weather tightness, the age and wear and tear of buildings." Population movement and future growth were also considered.

Ms Parata said $11 million would be spent upgrading Woolston School for the merger and the new, merged school would open by term 1 in 2015.

The minister rejected Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson's accusations of bullying, telling Checkpoint that a decision had to be made.

"We need certainty here because it's not just Phillipstown involved in this - Woolston school is also involved. They wanted the school to remain as is for two years, at the end of which to review that. That was not a tenable proposition in these circumstances."

Labour pledge school to stay open

The Labour Party said if it is elected to Government on 20 September, it will allow Phillipstown School to stay open.

Associate education spokesperson Megan Woods said on Wednesday it is disgraceful that even after the courts over-ruled Hekia Parata's initial process, the minister ploughed on with her plan to strip the community of its local schools.

Ms Woods said a Labour government would grant the school and the community's request to allow it to stay open, reviewing it once population projections and other information had been considered.