Principal hits out at government 'cost-cutting'

A Whangamata school principal's whose technology building was gutted by fire is accusing the Education Ministry of putting cost-cutting ahead of pupils' needs.

Whangamata Area School principal Ross Preece says the Government's rebuild proposal was "a huge slap in the face".

The ministry's proposal was based on excessive cost-cutting but was not in the students' best interests, he said.

"I've heard from the ministry that they're not going to replace the 750sq/m site that was the technology block. They've suggested they'll cover 250sq/m. It's only a third of the size," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"The foundations are still in shape and we have the existing plans [of the former technology building] so if we were to rebuild we could have had the kids in there by term two, but if they go ahead with this plan it's going to be at least 18 months before it's ready because we have to go through resource consent, and tendering, and that's really disappointing."

The fire, estimated to have cost $1 million worth of damage, broke out about 11am on November 14. It took hold of the school's technology block, which housed equipment and tools for woodworking, metalcraft and automotive classes.

Mr Preece was alerted by the ministry's proposal via email on Wednesday - the last day of school this year. The email indicated the Government's cover would involve renovating "an old, derelict classroom" into a new woodworking room and "an old, unlined double garage" into a new metalwork room.

"I wasn't going to ruin the prizegiving and tell them the news. Staff and the community will be absolutely livid when they find out," he said.

Mr Preece said the school asked if it could fundraise and rebuild on the site of the original block but the answer was no. He said the reason he was given was that it did not sit within ministry guidelines.

"I think it's ridiculous. We've got enough tradies in town to help us rebuild but it doesn't look like it's going to happen and the ministry is entirely to blame.

"We're going to fight this as best as we can ... because what they're proposing has got nothing to do with what's best for the kids. The decision doesn't take into account actual feelings and community support, it's designed to save money and it's as simple as that."

The Ministry of Education would not answer questions from the Bay of Plenty Times and issued the following statement: "The ministry's goal is to ensure that adequate technology related facilities are provided at the school to replace the loss from the fire.

"However, as the school has significant surplus capacity the ministry needs to ensure that taxpayers' funds are spent appropriately. The ministry will be working closely with the board of trustees to ensure the teaching and learning needs of the school are suitably addressed through the provision of new technology related facilities."

Mr Preece said people could show their support by emailing Education Minister Hekia Parata or associate minister Craig Foss.

- By Genevieve Helliwell of the Bay of Plenty Times

Add a Comment