Principal takes stand on zoning

By Genevieve Helliwell

A Western Bay principal is upset at a Ministry of Education directive to enforce a zone around his primary school, which could see the school lose up to 200 pupils.

Geoff Opie, of Otumoetai Primary, is against a school zone but is being forced to implement one because of unusually high pupil numbers.

"Having a zone goes against my personal philosophy. Parents should be able to choose which school they want to send their children to and having a school zone will take away a parent's choice," Mr Opie told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"I understand what the ministry are saying and why they are doing this. They're following protocol ... but they're not taking into account that there's a community involved. I believe it's a knee-jerk reaction to what's going on.

"I don't believe it's the right thing to do and I think there will be a number of fairly upset parents in our community because of this."

Mr Opie announced the zone proposal in this month's school newsletter.

He told the Bay of Plenty Times the reason for the zone was because of the school's high roll.

This year there are 124 Year 2 pupils enrolled at Otumoetai Primary. This is the biggest group Mr Opie has seen in his 10 years at the school. He said as the large group advanced through the school, the pupil-teacher ratio would change and the school would need more classroom space.

In his time at the school, the roll has consistently comprised about 565-590 pupils. He said this year there were more young pupils than normal in the Western Bay of Plenty and the figure would drop in the next few years.

The ministry approached the decile-7 school at the end of last year with a proposed zone, which could see the school lose up to 200 pupils.

Mr Opie would not detail which streets were included in the proposal but said it was smaller than the zones for Pillans Point School and Matua School, which both had fewer pupils.

"We're close to a number of other schools - Brookfield and Pillans Point and Matua and Bellevue - and essentially we all have overlapping zones," he said.

"If we realistically zoned out schools, Brookfield School would be in our zone. Certain streets in the ministry's first proposal will exclude pupils living within 1km of the school.

"And it's now the job of the board of trustees to go back to them with our response zone proposal and stand up for the zone we believe we can have."

This meeting is set to take place in the coming weeks. The new school zone is set to be enforced at the beginning of the second term.

Current pupils who are found to be living outside the zone will be able to remain at the school.

Mr Opie said: "It's logical and it's a decision that's based on a formula, but it doesn't allow for parent choice ... I understand why [the ministry is] doing it but I don't agree with it."

A parent who did not want to be named said Otumoetai Primary was "a fantastic school and it would be a shame if a zone was introduced".

"Two schools in the area [Pillans and Matua] are already zoned and it would limit families' choices further," she said.

Two local real-estate industry representatives said the new school zone at Otumoetai Primary would have little effect on house prices in the area.

Tauranga Harcourts managing director Simon Martin said the zone could have the potential to increase house prices if parents believed the school was better than others in the area.

LJ Hooker Tauranga franchise owner Neville Falconer did not believe house prices would increase but it could make houses in the area sell "a bit quicker".

According to a ministry document, 17 of the region's primary schools are zoned, including Golden Sands School, Maungatapu School, Omanu School and Selwyn Ridge School.

The ministry did not respond to questions from the Bay of Plenty Times about school zoning in the Western Bay of Plenty.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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