Marfell community members wanted to show Green Party co-leader James Shaw how “shovel ready” they are to get work under way at Marfell school.
A Taranaki acting principal says the direct message she sent to the Government about school funding appeared to have fallen on deaf ears but she had found willing listeners among members of the Opposition.
On Monday, Kealy Warren, of Marfell Community School, had a behind-closed-doors meeting with National Party leader Judith Collins, who was visiting New Plymouth with some the party’s MPs, including local representative Jonathan Young.
The meeting at the school followed an open letter Warren sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week following news of $11.7 million being granted to aid the expansion of the privately-run Green School in Oakura.
National Party leader Judith Collins announces her party’s education infrastructure policy.
The money was part of the Government’s shovel-ready funding scheme to help the economy recover from coronavirus.
Warren said she talked with Collins about her school’s “property horror stories” and its ongoing needs.
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She said she thought her concerns had been heard but could not say the same for the Government.
Warren said she had not had any response regarding her invitation for Green Party co-leader James Shaw, who announced the funding last Wednesday, to visit her school.
At the end of the meeting, Warren asked MP Nicola Willis to pass on a photograph to Shaw of Marfell School community members posing with tools as a signal they too were “shovel ready”.
Warren said she still hoped the money granted to the Green School would be pulled but also backed a better way to fund school property issues.
“It is not working, it is not fair and schools are falling around our ears.”
She said addressing the hoops principals had to jump through to push their case for upgrades also needed to be reconsidered.
“It is really not necessary. Trust the principals. We know what is going on.”
Collins also visited New Plymouth Boys’ High School to announce National’s $4.8 billion policy on investing in education infrastructure, if it gets elected on October 17.
As well as Young, she was joined by education spokesperson Willis and Chris Bishop, the party’s transport and infrastructure spokesperson.
The Green School controversy was not far from the minds of some New Plymouth Boys’ High School students either.
During question time when Collins visited an economics class, a student asked how the decision was made.
Collins said it was something National was still trying to get to the bottom of and would be asking more about it in the House this week.
“The whole Government needs to answer for it.”
Collins said it was not good enough for principals like Warren to spend so much time applying for funding grants for upgrade work, so the $11.7m Green School announcement had been “just a total kick in the guts for them”.
When asked whether National would walk back the agreement to give the Green School the cash, Collins said it would be difficult if contracts had already been signed.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Taranaki Secondary Schools Principals’ Association (TSSPA) has now written to Education Minister Chris Hipkins to criticise the decision to award the Green School $11.7m and urge for it to be withdrawn.
In the letter, sent on Monday, Martin Chamberlain said the association’s members, who are collectively responsible for all of the secondary students in the province, were “united in their opposition”.
“We cannot accept taxpayer funding being directed to individuals who will privately own the expanded asset and profit from the venture.
“There is dire need for this funding in our state and state integrated schools.”
Chamberlain asked Hipkins if he was aware of the ramifications when he signed off on the project, if he made a conscious decision to fund a private school, and “if you were not fully aware of these issues, what do you propose to do by way of remedy?”
He added: “Our group’s remedy would be full retraction of any fund or loan offer.”
James Shaw, the associate minister of finance and Green Party co-leader, told party members on Friday that it would be difficult to get out of the funding agreement, although he was looking for some form of solution.