By: Simon Collins

South Auckland Middle School students Kaia Tuiono, Liana Miller and Bree Richmond-Rex are among 1300 charter school students in limbo after the schools’ contracts were terminated. Photo / File

The Government has terminated the contracts of 10 of the 11 charter schools, leaving them in limbo while they wait to hear whether they can become integrated schools or special-character state schools.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins sent termination letters to the 10 schools yesterday, giving them six months’ notice that their contracts will end at the end of this school year.

One school has given reasons why its contract should not be terminated and Hipkins has agreed to consider those reasons.

So far he has approved only Albany’s Vanguard Military School, to convert to a state school with designated character.

He has promised to decide by the end of July on applications from nine others to become designated character state schools and from two, Te Kura Māori o Waatea in Māngere and the proposed new Tūranga Tangata Rite in Gisborne, to become integrated schools similar to Catholic schools.

Villa Education Trust founder Alwyn Poole who set up South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland charter schools said they were “in complete limbo” for almost two months.

“At present we cannot offer a single student place at SAMS or MSWA for 2019. We do not even know what the enrolment criteria are,” he said.

“Our staff and students have massive trust in our trust, but the integrity and processes from the new Government and ministry are completely lacking in integrity and compassion.​”

Hamish Crooks of the Pacific Advance Secondary School in Ōtāhuhu said the termination letter was expected and was “just part of the process”.

National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said the termination was a sad day for all the schools.

“This comes from a minister who announces closure of schools publicly before decisions have been made, has selective meetings with one school but not others, rides roughshod over a select committee currently hearing potential changes to special character to help make the schools function by ruling them out in a letter from the ministry,” she said.

“Then he has the gall to claim success that schools have applied for special character when legislation is going through Parliament and some are receiving termination letters so they have no choice.”

Graeme Osborne of E Tipu e Rea, a support agency for the charter schools, said the schools would decide next week on a possible claim to the Waitangi Tribunal against Hipkins’s decision to close the schools unilaterally. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the schools’ 1300 students are Māori.

“There was no consultation, there was no reciprocity, they haven’t respected the principle of tino rangatiratanga or self-determination,” he said.

Poole said his negotiations with Ministry of Education officials indicated that the transition to a special-character state school would give his two schools less money for teaching and student welfare because the ministry would take over the schools’ property leases.

“What we currently get is the equivalent of a state school which, in the case of South Auckland Middle School, is for 180 kids in Years 7 to 10 in decile 1, in bulk,” he said.

“So [we] can minimise our spend on buildings and infrastructure and have money available to pay for uniforms, stationery, pay staff a little more, have more activities and all sorts of things that are adding to the wellbeing of the students.

“Under the designated character model they are going to, whether they need to or not, spend a much greater proportion on property, and we have less to spend on things that add to the wellbeing of the children.”

Kaye said National was committed to reinstating “an enhanced model” for charter schools if it regained power in the future.

Hipkins said the termination “means those schools won’t continue to operate as charter schools beyond this year, unless a different date is mutually agreed”.

“Reaching mutual agreement with the schools to end their contracts is still the preferred option, and the Ministry of Education will continue its discussions with the schools,” he said.

“This is a formal, legal process required under the contracts. It is separate from decisions on the sponsors’ applications to join the state school system.”

Source: NZ Herald

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