By: Simon Collins

A dispute has broken out between charter schools over how to respond to a Government decision to abolish them.

The chief executive of a trust that runs two charter schools in Whangarei, Raewyn Tipene, says the founder of two Auckland charter schools “shouldn’t be allowed to run a school”.

Alywn Poole’s Villa Education Trust had complained to the Auditor-General that Education Minister Chris Hipkins showed “favourable treatment” to the Whangarei schools by meeting Tipene at Waitangi last month despite saying he would leave negotiations with all charter schools to officials.

National MP Nikki Kaye also complained to the Auditor-General and told Parliament Hipkins was “engaging in preferential treatment accepting meetings arranged by other Cabinet ministers while telling everyone else he won’t meet with other schools”.

Poole criticised Hipkins in an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“Your ‘Hitman Hipkins’ got his process so very wrong. His ‘agree to close or I will close you anyway’ announcements were atrocious and completely lacked compassion for our children and families,” he told her.

Alwyn Poole says “Hitman Hipkins” has followed an “atrocious” process to abolish charter schools. Photo / Doug Sherring

Hipkins introduced a bill on February 8 to abolish charter schools and said his preferred option was to terminate their contracts by agreement, enabling them to become “designated character” state schools or integrated or private schools.

He added: “If however, early termination is not agreed by both parties, I am reserving my right to issue a notice of ‘termination for convenience’.”

The Labour Party itself is divided on the issue. Deputy leader Kelvin Davis, an associate minister of education, was involved in establishing the two Whangarei schools, and Employment Minister Willie Jackson headed the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA) when it started a Māngere charter school, Te Kura Māori o Waatea.

Raewyn Tipene says she met about nine ministers at Waitangi to try to save her two charter schools in Whangarei. File photo

Tipene said she met “about nine ministers” at Waitangi during Waitangi Day events.

“I caught up with Chris. He was very, very polite. We had a very good conversation. He made no promises about anything,” she said.

She said it was “unacceptable” for Poole and Kaye to “attack” her schools.

“Alwyn attacked our kura. A person like that shouldn’t be allowed to run a school,” she said.

“Alwyn has done himself no favours by attacking the minister and by trying to create chaos where there is none. We should be trying to settle the issues and work out what is actually being offered, or not offered, before jumping around like flies and causing havoc.”

Tipene said her trust, He Puna Marama Trust, was “really pragmatic” about keeping its two schools open. Their 312 students at the last official roll return were all Māori and the trust wants to keep the schools’ bilingual character.

However Poole said he had Tipene’s “full written permission” to speak publicly before he spoke out about Hipkins’ meeting with her.

“We have in no way attacked Raewyn’s schools. We think they are fabulous schools,” he said.

“Our complaint to the Auditor-General is not a complaint against Raewyn’s organisation, it is a request for the Auditor-General to look into the process that has been implemented by the Government and the ministry.”

Poole said he was also confident the Government would not close his two middle schools, in Henderson and Manurewa, but he wanted to retain trust ownership, bulk funding and individual employment contracts for teachers.

Vanguard Military School chief executive Nick Hyde said he would apply for designated character status, and MUMA general manager operations Wyn Osborne said he would seek designated character status for a composite Years 1 to 13 school on his Māngere site.

The other five charter schools said they were still considering their options.

Source: NZ Herald


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