Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Hobsonville schools to be built under public-private partnership

Hobsonville will be home to two schools built by the private sector. Photo / Richard Robinson
Hobsonville will be home to two schools built by the private sector. Photo / Richard Robinson

Two new schools planned for Hobsonville will be the guinea pigs for National's hopes of extending public-private partnerships into the schooling sector.

Infrastructure minister Bill English yesterday announced two new schools in Hobsonville would be built and maintained by the private sector, although the government would own the school.

It would be the first time schools in New Zealand were built under a public private partnership - a policy National flagged before the 2008 election.

Despite officials' advice that any savings would be minimal, the government is seeking expressions of interest for the two schools - a primary and secondary school at Hobsonville Point, which are due to open in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

The private operator would build the school and maintain the property
for 25 years before returning it to the Crown.

Mr English acknowledged any savings from the new arrangement were likely to be modest, at least for the first schools, and the government would back out if bids were not attractive enough.

It was also not suitable for all schools. However, there were other benefits.

"People who have worked in these schools where someone else is responsible for the property and maintenance tell us they can spend more time focussing on the learning and achievement."

Teacher's union NZEI national secretary Iain Leckie said it was a huge change, pushed through without consultation with the community.

It would take schools out of the control of the community and put them into the hands of private companies seeking profits, he said.

"Schools and communities want and expect 24-7 access to school buildings and facilities, as well as the ability to control what happens in them. That access should be non-negotiable and never put at risk."

He said the schools were in the Prime Minister's electorate and he had to ensure community access to schools were not affected.

Education minister Anne Tolley said boards of trustees would still control governance at the school and would be free to focus on teaching and learning.

It would also place the financial risk of expensive problems such as leaky buildings onto the private company, which could be contractually bound not to allow buildings to fall into disrepair.

However, the plan was criticised by Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty, who said it would reduce the ability of boards of trustees to make decision for their schools and could pit the wishes of boards for further development in the school against the business agenda of the private company.

"In the absence of any significant savings, the only explanation for going down the PPP route is that the Government wants to do a favour to big business."

She said it also risked landing the public with the costs of fixing up run-down assets when the buildings were returned to the government after the 25-year term.

The plan:
* Hobsonville Point Primary School - years 1-8, expected roll of 690, due to open 2013.
* Hobsonville Point Secondary School - years 9-13, expected roll 1,500, open in stages from 2014.
* schools are designed, financed, built, and maintained by a private operator for 25 year contract.
* financial penalties if private operator does not maintain well.
* boards of trustees keep control of governance.

- NZ Herald

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