By Simon Collins
Education Minister Chris Hipkins will hear a $47 million last-ditch bid to save Hato Petera College this week.
Hipkins, Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare will visit the college on Auckland’s North Shore on Thursday to hear views on Catholic Bishop Pat Dunn’s request to cancel the college’s integration agreement with the state – signalling its closure.
A group trying to save the school, Te Whānau Whānui o Hato Petera, is promoting a $47m plan to rebuild the school with beds for 384 boarders plus an aquatic centre, flats for tertiary students and a retirement village.
A Kerikeri forestry director who speaks for the Ngāti Hao hāpu of Ngāpuhi who have lodged a Treaty of Waitangi claim for the area, James Clyde, said he hoped to raise funds through the treaty claim to help pay for the redevelopment.
But another member of the group, Rātahi Tomuri, said the plan would depend on the Catholic Church granting a long-term lease of the 12ha site, and when the plan was first proposed by Te Whānau o Hato Petera Trust in 2015, the Church was only willing to grant a five-year lease.
The college was Auckland’s last remaining Māori boarding school with 245 students at its peak, but the Ministry of Education closed its boarding hostel in 2016 on health and safety grounds and the roll dwindled to just one student earlier this year.
Hipkins issued an interim decision in June to cancel the integration agreement, but allowed 28 days for a report from the school’s commissioner, Lex Hamill.
An invitation to Thursday’s meeting from the ministry’s regional director Isabel Evans says Hipkins “would like to meet with members of the Hato Petera community to hear from people who have been involved with the college as a student, parent, caregiver, board member or teacher over the past few years”.
The 70-minute meeting is scheduled to run from 11am to 12.10pm.
Tomuri said the redevelopment plan, with a new main school building named after Dame Whina Cooper, was supported by two iwi with claims to the area, Ngāti Hao and Ngāti Paoa, which sold the land to Governor George Grey for educational purposes in the 1840s.
Ngāti Paoa principal adviser Haydn Solomon said it was Ngāti Paoa land which became connected with Ngāti Hao when Ngāti Hao chief Patuone married a Ngāti Paoa woman Riria.
He said Ngāti Paoa was currently negotiating its treaty claim and notified the Crown three weeks ago of its concerns about the Hato Petera land.
“We have looked at the [redevelopment] proposal. It’s about keeping the school open, using the land for education, so we are supportive of that,” he said.
“But it’s not exclusive support. As mana whenua, we are not trying to pick sides, we are just trying to maintain the principle of why the land was set aside.”
A key principle for the church has been a provision in the college’s integration agreementthat at least 95 per cent of students must be Catholic. Mate Webb, who chaired the college board of trustees when the plan was developed, said that should be reduced to 60 per cent to help recruit more students.
He said the plan would also need a 25-year lease and extending the age range of students to include Years 7 and 8 as well as the current Years 9 to 13.
A former Te Whānau o Hato Petera Trust chairman and old boy, Dr Lance O’Sullivan, suggested that the school should become a boarding facility only, with students attending nearby schools on the model of Auckland Grammar School’s InZone hostel.
“I’m fiercely proud of Hato Petera’s contribution to my life and who I am, and in a spirit of gratitude I’m very keen to be a part of the future for Hato Petera,” he said.
“To be frank, I think that does include the fact that the school will close as we know it. I believe that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to have a blank canvas to start again. That start again has to be different.”