Off to battle in support of rural schools

Alf didn’t need to be kicked into action by angry constituents, when they learned that eight schools in the Tararua District are threatened with closure after a review of rural education in the region.

He was on the case already, although it’s hard slog, trying to turn the tide once the bloody education bureaucrats are on a roll. Especially now that all government spending is being so closely watched.

Alf’s mate Shane Ardern had a similar experience a few years back, when schools were closed in his patch in Taranaki-King Country.

Something the bloody number-crunchers just don’t grasp is the critical role a school plays in holding a community together. The local school becomes a centre for a raft of community activities, no matter how few the numbers of pupils.

The value of this just can’t be measured.

Alf’s immediate mission, of course, is to stall the hatchet gang from the ministry.

The recommendations to close the schools did come in a consultation document by a community-elected working group set up last year, fair to say. It’s one of three reviews around the country looking at the future of rural schools, so Alf won’t be the only MP having to fight for his constituents.

The Government yesterday distanced itself from the potential mass closure, with Education Minister Anne Tolley saying the decisions had so far been completely community driven.

The ministry said the process allows communities to review their own education needs.

But Alf knows that at least some communities in the district aren’t as happy as those remarks imply.

And probably none of them are.

Locals who talked to him question the fairness of both the process and the resultant proposals.

The ministry mandarins plan to cut a broad swathe.

According to the report at Stuff –

The review in Tararua District covering 12 schools from Woodville to Eketahuna could lead to the most school closures seen since the Labour government imposed a moratorium on shutdowns in 2004.

The “Bush Country” Community Initiated Review, or CIEP, involving community elected members and aministry-appointed facilitator, suggests the closure of eight schools with a combined total of about 340 pupils.

Schools touted for closure are Ballance, Hillcrest, Kumeroa-Hopelands, Makuri, Papatawa, Mangatainoka, Mangamaire and Woodville.

The working group’s arguments for sweeping change hinge on rapidly falling classrooms populations. In the 10 years since 1999, combined rolls had fallen 31.5 per cent from 1695 to 1160 children.

Mangamaire School principal Kirsty Silvester said though all schools knew of the review, the proposals were completely unexpected.

“We thought this was about strengthening education, not blowing it apart. This is writing off rural schools based on dodgy population data,” she said.

“No-one can even tell me who initiated this review and why. We work for our rural community. This is the heart of who we are.”

Kumeroa-Hopelands School, near Woodville, is also reeling at the news. Principal Jo Gibbs said the entire community was shocked at the extent of the proposals.

“This is a total bombshell. We are a school whose roll is actually growing (67 students compared to 40 two years ago). We will … fight this tooth and nail.”

Public meetings are to be held in the district next month, with recommendations to be finalised by August 17.

Ms Tolley is quoted as saying she won’t make decisions till the community consultation is completed, and even then, nothing is certain.

Locals will not be mollified.

And Alf will be advising the Minister to make bloody sure the decisions reached have the community support she imagines. This is National Party country, dammit. We can’t betray our supporters with crap like this.

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