Govt eyes school board mergers

By Chloe Johnson

Struggle to find candidates for trustee elections fuels Parata's plan for change

Hekia Parata. Photo / David White
Hekia Parata. Photo / David White

The Government might look at merging the boards of small neighbouring schools that struggled to get enough suitable candidates for this week's nationwide board of trustee elections.

More than 1,000 schools will not have elections this year because they have only enough candidates to fill the positions, meaning no vote is required, the Herald on Sunday has learned.

Responding to the numbers, Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday said some small school boards might have to be merged.

She revealed the plans to the Herald on Sunday days after announcing the merger of four Christchurch schools into one "super school".

The board merger idea comes on top of a ministry letter threatening to appoint commissioners to run any school that cannot find enough people to serve on its board.

Moari Taylor from Okaihau's Horeke School, which has two teachers and 28 students, said the merging of boards was worrying.

"We have five nominations for five positions," she said. "We are worried that if they merge boards they are looking at merging schools."

Four schools had failed to fill their boards, Parata said.

One, in Canterbury, has agreed to turn over its governance to a ministry-appointed commissioner.

The education minister said serving three years as a trustee was "a big commitment," but the government valued parental involvement and had nearly doubled the funding for boards in the Budget last week.

The trustee system could be adapted to better reflect 21st century governance, she said.

"But the basic grassroots democracy is a very powerful voice for parents."

Unions and associations representing teachers, principals and trustees gave a mixed response to Parata's merger talk.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said school board members needed to have increasingly sophisticated skills to deal with growing financial pressure.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said high decile schools had no problems finding good board members, but poorer schools struggled.

He was concerned Parata would force their boards to merge.

Voting has started in about 1,300 schools which have enough candidates to hold an election, and results will be declared after the polls close on Thursday.

School Trustees Association general manager Ray Newport said 1,056 of New Zealand's 2,384 state and state-integrated schools - not including 80 Maori schools - had already declared results because no vote was needed.

- Herald on Sunday

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