By: Simon Collins

Blue Light planned to turn its Wairakei lodge (above) into a charter school, but abandoned its plans in February after local community protests. Photo / File

Taxpayers have paid $3.4 million to five proposed charter schools that may never open.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has told National education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye that two proposed schools were paid establishment grants on the day the Ardern Government was sworn in, October 26.

Two others have been paid establishment grants since then, apparently because the new Government was bound by contracts signed before the election even though Hipkins has introduced a bill abolishing charter, or partnership, schools.

None of the five schools is believed to have paid back any of the money yet because they are still negotiating about either opening state or integrated schools instead, or recovering their costs for dreams that will never be realised.

The Ministry of Education has advised Hipkins that terminating contracts for the 11 existing charter schools and the five proposed schools “would generate compensation costs for committed costs of up to $1m per school (total of $16m for 16 schools), but is likely to be lower as not all schools would have committed costs of $1m”.

Kaye said adding that to the $3.4m in establishment grants, plus extra property costs the state may take on if charter schools become state schools, make “a $20m policy to change the names of the schools”.

But Hipkins said: “Negotiations with all existing and proposed charter schools are ongoing. I’d encourage the Opposition to contain their wild speculation until those negotiations have concluded.”

Blue Light Ventures, which runs youth activities out of police stations, abandoned its plans to open a charter school in February for up to 90 boys in Years 11 to 13 at Wairakei, after local residents objected.

Blue Light chief executive Rod Bell said then that he was still discussing “the contract position” with the ministry, which paid it an establishment grant of $568,783 on August 21.

However at least three of the four charter schools that were due to open next year are still hoping to open schools in some form.

Hobsonville Point deputy principal Claire Amos (left) and Brett O’Riley (right), snapped at a bar opening last year, planned a science-oriented school in central Auckland. File photo

Former Auckland economic development agency head Brett O’Riley, who planned a science-oriented “City Senior School” for up to 300 students in central Auckland, said: “We are not able to proceed with a partnership school. We have made no decision about a future school.”

His colleague Claire Amos, currently deputy principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, said she could not comment on what has happened to the $727,696 grant the school received on October 26.

“Really need to let MoE announce what is happening,” she said by text.

Vanguard Military School, which received $757,115 on October 26 to establish a new school in Christchurch, said last week that it was “still in negotiations with the ministry” about the new school. It has applied to turn its existing Albany school into a special-character state school.

A Gisborne iwi that was paid $663,986 on November 16 to open a charter school for up to 55 Māori students in Years 9 to 11, Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui ā Kiwa, said it was negotiating to become an integrated school similar to Catholic schools.

The iwi’s tertiary training arm manager Sharon Maynard said the school would serve young people who had “disengaged” from mainstream schools but were barred from the iwi’s tertiary courses because they were below the school leaving age.

“Integration gives our iwi more autonomy, even though it’s slightly less funding – you only get 85 per cent of the property grants,” she said.

But unlike many Catholic schools, the iwi will not charge fees.

“We are just going to have to manage the finances sharper and look for outside help,” Maynard said.

Te Kura Māori o Waatea, led by principal Tania Rangiheuea, seen here with Tu Williams at this year’s Waitangi Day events, may become a Years 1 to 13 school. File photo

The final charter school that was due to open next year, Waatea High School, received $664,239 on December 22.

Wyn Osborne of the Manukau Urban Māori Authority, which runs an existing charter primary school at Ngā Whare Waatea Marae in Māngere, said last month that he would seek designated character status for a composite Years 1 to 13 school on the site.

Asked for an update, he texted: “We’re mid-negotiations that are extremely important to us. So I know you’ll appreciate our position which is that we’re not available for comment.”

The principal of the Waatea primary school, Tania Rangiheuea, is married to Employment Minister Willie Jackson.

Just a change of name?

Partnership schools: Owned by private sponsors; free to employ non-registered teachers; not bound by NZ curriculum; state pays establishment grants; state pays operational funding into one pot; no student fees. Example: Vanguard Military School.

State schools with designated character: Owned by the state but private sponsors may have board representation; must employ registered teachers; must follow NZ curriculum; state provides capital for school buildings plus operational funding in two main pots – one for teacher salaries which must be paid at agreed collective rates, and one for other costs; no student fees. Example: Ngā Kura a Iwi (tribal schools).

Integrated schools: Owned by private proprietors, who may have up to four people on the school board; must employ registered teachers; must follow NZ curriculum but may include religious instruction; state may fund up to 85 per cent of building costs, then funds operations as for state schools with teacher salaries which must be paid at agreed collective rates; may charge attendance dues solely to cover property costs. Example: Catholic schools.

What they got

  • Vanguard Military School, Christchurch: $757,115
  • City Senior School, Auckland: $727,696
  • Waatea High School, Māngere: $664,239
  • Blue Light Senior Boys High School, Wairakei: $568,763
  • Tūranga Tangata Rite, Gisborne: $663,986

Source: Parliamentary questions.

Source: NZ Herald

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