Waimangaroa school to close

By Kim Fulton of the Westport News

Buller's 13-pupil Waimangaroa School will close permanently at the end of the school year.

Principal Helen Penfold and Commissioner Janet Kelly have written to community members informing them of the closure of the school, established in 1879.

They said Education Minister Hekia Parata made the decision after considering submissions and after much discussion between the school and the ministry.

The school would close for lessons on December 14 and officially on January 27 next year.

Ms Penfold said today the school's closure would be a huge loss, affecting both this generation and its predecessors.

She hoped the Buller District Council would buy the playground and courts.

"One thing I'm really worried about is that the property will become uncared for."

The ministry assigned a company to look after the property in such situations but the company hadn't done a very good job on a building it had been assigned to at Granity School, Ms Penfold said.

Next year 10 of the school's 13 students would go to Granity School, two would go to Westport North School and one would go on to Buller High.

There would be a free bus service from Waimangaroa to Granity, but students going to town schools would have to pay $100 a term to take the bus.

Though some students were excited about a new situation, some were very upset. They would be visiting their new schools over the next two weeks.

Staff had received letters announcing the closure and outlining their options. Ms Penfold thought all the six staff, including two teachers, would take redundancy.

"It's all a bit close to Christmas to think about trying to get another job."

She would continue to work at the school until the end of February. Most of its resources would go to Granity School.

Both Ms Penfold and the commissioner had requested the school's closure be delayed until the end of term one next year, as they were concerned there wouldn't be time for children to move into their new schools.

"And there's no time for the community to celebrate and remember the school as it is."

There would be an open day to commemorate Waimangaroa School towards the end of January so everyone could get together and look at old photographs and other memorabilia. One special asset was the school bell, which originated in the old Denniston School.

Ms Penfold said she would have liked the school to stay open but the closure had become inevitable.

There were no five-year-olds on the roll, no parents saying they wanted their children to come back to the school, and no board members.

She was disappointed at how long it had taken the ministry to decide the school's future. She had been promised a decision at the end of term three.

"We're very disappointed in the ministry in that respect, and the fact that it's taken so long. It's very hard on the community, very hard on the kids, not knowing."

The ministry received 12 submissions on the school's closure. Senior manger, implementation planning, education, curriculum and performance Jim Greening told The News last week, that 10 submissions had opposed closure, one had supported it, and another wanted more research and time for consideration.

The ministry also received a petition opposing the closure signed by 170 community members.

The school's roll dropped from 18 to 13 this year, mostly due to people moving away from the area.

More than 30 residents, parents and supporters met with ministry representatives in August to discuss the school's viability.

Mrs Kelly told the meeting she had recommended closure after weighing up the falling roll, finances, lack of trustees, relative proximity to other schools and lack of growth in Waimangaroa.

The drop in students had led to a cut in the school's operational budget. It had a total deficit of $22,000, including $20,000 depreciation.

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