12 Sep 2021

Education Ministry apologises for transfer of Taihape school teaching farm

7:43 pm on 12 September 2021

A Taihape farmer who helped win an apology over lost land from the Ministry of Education says it is little consolation.

The woolshed-classroom for agriculture students from the primary-secondary school in Taihape.

The woolshed-classroom for students at the Taihape school. Photo: Supplied

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier told the ministry to apologise for having disposed of a 13-hectare school farm that locals set up, when it had promised the school could keep it.

The farm is now in the Treaty settlements landbank.

Taihape Area School former board chair Andy Law said it was good to have independent vindication of their complaint - but it stopped far short of action.

"Here's a scenario: the government steals ownership of your house. When confronted they admit fault, that they were wrong and they are now very sorry - and they promise to do better in the future.

"You ask for the house back. The government refuses, saying they want to use it to pay off a debt to someone else.

"That's where we're at."

The whole town contributed 30 years ago to set up the farm, and they would want it back, too, said Law, who led the school's battle over the farm for several years.

The Ministry of Education did not respond to RNZ if it would consider compensating the school for the million-dollar farm.

The school has a lease paid by the ministry to access the farm for agricultural lessons "as long as it is required", education infrastructure service head Kim Shannon said in a statement.

Taihape Area School principal Craig Dredge has said there would be no impact from not owning the farm.

The board went to the ombudsman "simply to gain closure of potential barriers in our partnerships (iwi, community, and MOE) - as we also acknowledge that land use and access does not necessitate actual ownership", Dredge said earlier this year.

The Ministry said it was working with the school's farm committee to build a new shed and workshop, and stock pens, do fencing repairs, and water supply upgrades, which the ministry would fund.

In about a month it would know if it could improve its practices, it said.

"Once the school board has had a chance to consider our apology, we are looking forward to hearing their response and answering their questions. "

Law said that was a foolish use of taxpayer money.

"Why would you build on land that you've only got a lease for for the next three years?"

Previous principals have said they held back on investing in the farm once the school lost ownership.

An educational farm had to be set up carefully, Law said. They had had plans to plant a small orchard and introduce forestry.

"Long term stuff. And you just can't do that when you've got a grazing lease.

"The ministry people, they're not farmers, they don't understand that stuff."

He added it was "shocking" that Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little had referred to the board making claims "willy-nilly".

The minister in March said the farm "can't just be handed back willy-nilly to whoever thinks they have a claim on it".

The ministry apologised to the Taihape Area School board on Monday.

The current school board said it was considering the apology.

The ministry now had a dedicated team to manage disposing of Crown land and buildings, and would look at whether it could improve its practices still further, Shannon said.

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