12 Sep 2020

Teachers want answers on $11.7M private Green School fund

12:59 pm on 12 September 2020

Taranaki educators want more details explained about how a $11.7 million grant of public funds was granted to an expansion project at a privately-run environmentally focused Green School south of New Plymouth.

Green School New Zealand.

Green School New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The region's teachers are determined to get to the bottom of what unfolded, says Taranaki Secondary Schools Principals Association head Martin Chamberlain.

Chamberlain wants the deal scuttled. He says he wrote to Education Minister Chris Hipkins asking for an explanation, but the response was laughable.

The reply reiterates the government's position that the grant was made to the school as part of a suite of "shovel-ready" projects from the Covid-19 infrastructure fund.

The minister also pointed out that the funding does not affect Education Ministry funding, and $11.75 million has been set aside for upgrades to Taranaki's 78 schools over the next two years, with $68 million dollars already spent on school property in the region between 2017 and 2019.

But Chamberlain says $11.75 million between 78 schools is not in the same league.

"That amounts to 150,000 per school, and is a long shot away from what one green school is proposed to be receiving."

He's sceptical that all details about how the green school's funding was granted have come to light, and suggests an Official Information Act request may reveal details that make it unpalatable to go through with the funding.

"We are suspecting that the OIA material that's released will scuttle the whole prospect all together for the Green School."

While Chamberlain wishes the Green School well as an environmental institution, he says the issue is that as a private enterprise it shouldn't receive taxpayer funds.

The Green School has said most of the money was meant to be in the form of loans.

But Chamberlain says that's still unacceptable use of taxpayer funds and converting the grant into a loan won't end the controversy.

He says as a private institution the Green School should have had a bank-based strategy for raising funds for its expansion and given that interest rates are where they are at the moment that's something that should be totally accessible to them.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw, who announced the grant and signed the grant off alongside other ministers, has come under fire for his involvement.

He has emphasised that the grant will secure more than 200 constructions jobs for the region, but later apologised for his 'error of judgement', and said the grant would most likely be made as a loan.

Shaw is due to speak to Taranaki teachers next week.

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