By: John Cousins

Pukehina’s once flourishing school is making a last throw of the dice to try and stave off closure.

With the roll sitting at 11 pupils and the prospect of only a couple of extra children next year if nothing was done, principal Roger Reid had begun seeking sponsorship to buy a minibus.

“If we had a minibus we could double our roll in a week,” he said.

The plight of the three-classroom school was highlighted by the latest Ministry of Education figures showing schools where classrooms were at less than 51 per cent of capacity.

Pukehina School was operating at just 15 per cent capacity – second only in the Bay to Kaingaroa Forest School which was at 10 per cent.

Based on school rolls at March this year, only two other schools in the Western Bay were operating at below 51 per cent capacity – Rangiuru at 47 per cent and Maketu at 41 per cent.

When the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to Reid yesterday, he was in the throes of writing letters to potential community funders.

Dedicated school buses played an important part in sustaining the rolls of other rural schools in the Western Bay who went out of their area to pick up kids. “We will have to do that to survive.”

Reid said Pukehina’s problem was that it was too small to afford a van. “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

But with pressure continuing to mount to get the roll up to a sustainable level, he said they needed an influx of other families to build the roll to about 20 children.

Pukehina School’s difficulties were compounded by the distance from Pukehina Beach and, unlike its nearest neighbours of Otamarakau and Pongakawa schools, it did not have the same close-knit supporting community living around the school.

Reid said the school suffered when its decile rating was dropped to the lowest possible rating of 1. Despite its teaching and learning culture, he said there was an unfair stigma attached to decile 1 schools.

Rangiuru School principal Tom Paekau said the 47 per cent classroom utilisation had been a blip caused by the larger than usual departure of Year 8 pupils to Te Puke High School.

The school roll had increased by 15 since March to reach 52 pupils, raising the classroom usage to up around 75 per cent. ”We had a big influx of new entrants in the last two terms.”

Maketu School principal Sonia Mau was not available for comment when contacted.

Under-utilised classrooms was an unusual problem for the buoyant Western Bay where overcapacity was much more of an issue – led by Tauranga’s Te Kura o Matapihi that was 141 per cent over capacity.

The good news announced by Matapihi school principal Tui Yeager this week was that the Ministry of Education was shifting two temporary classrooms onto the site in time for the first term next year.

She said the Portacom classrooms would relieve pressure on the school until a new three-classroom block was finished by the end of 2018. The over-capacity was currently being met by larger junior class sizes and putting an extra class into the library.

The improvements would lift the cap on the school roll to 170 pupils.

Western Bay’s top 10 over-capacity schools
– Te Kura o Matapihi 141 per cent
– Te Wharekura o Mauao 131 per cent
– TKKM o Te Kura Kokiri 130 per cent
– Oropi School 127 per cent
– Te Ranga School 120 per cent
– Bellevue School 117 per cent
– Te Puke Primary School 113 per cent
– St Mary’s Catholic School 109 per cent
– Greerton Village School 109 per cent
– Otumoetai College 107 per cent

Source: NZ Herald



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