Claire Trevett

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

School property review triggers alarm

Craig Foss. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Craig Foss. Photo / Steven McNicholl

A review which will consider whether school boards should continue to manage school property has led to concerns the Government wants to involve the private sector more.

Associate Education Minister Craig Foss announced consultancy firm Beca would review the management of the $10 billion school property portfolio - including who should be responsible for maintaining school property and making decisions on capital investment, such as new buildings.

The terms of reference state that the review should not focus on the public private partnership school in Hobsonville, "except insofar as it provides lessons applicable to the management of the wider school network".

Labour MP Chris Hipkins said there could be merit in involving the Ministry of Education in capital investment decisions at schools, but the review was clearly framed to open the way for more private sector involvement.

"This review seems to be deliberately skewed towards the privatisation of the provision of school buildings."

Mr Foss said that although the review would consider whether boards were best placed to manage school property, its purpose was not to introduce private management of schools.

He said the primary aim of the review was to consider whether the large school property and asset portfolio could be better managed, given financial challenges such as leaky buildings, rebuilding Christchurch schools, and earthquake-strengthening school buildings nationwide.

Mr Foss said there was anecdotal evidence that some boards and principals found property management time-consuming, which took away their attention from the classroom and education of children.

Paul Drummond, president of the New Zealand Principals' Federation, said boards were best placed to know the needs of the school.

"I would be very, very sad to see that local decision-making weakened. Although there are some frustrations around managing property because they take time, that could be improved by just less bureaucracy and more flexibility."

He was also concerned that the review was aimed at introducing more private sector involvement.

"The review gives a sense they are looking to abdicate responsibility around property and I think that could create more negatives than positives for both Government and local school communities.

"Parents won't opt in in the same way because there won't be that sense of ownership."

Mr Foss said he expected recommendations by the end of the year.

The Government has said the first $1 billion of the proceeds from state asset sales will be put into a fund to improve and build schools.

- NZ Herald

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