School rolls fall as job loss mounts

By Aimee van der Weyden of the Westport News

Westport North School's roll stands at 186 -- 23 fewer than this time last year and 58 fewer than the year before. Photo / iStock
Westport North School's roll stands at 186 -- 23 fewer than this time last year and 58 fewer than the year before. Photo / iStock

All four schools in the Westport area have fewer students than they did this time last year -- a sign of the times say their principals.

Westport North School's roll stands at 186 -- 23 fewer than this time last year and 58 fewer than the year before.

The large drop had had a "huge impact" on the budget, and three teachers had lost their jobs, said principal Cath O'Loughlin.

Last year, staffing requirements at the school had dropped from 12.6 full-time teacher equivalents (FTTE), to 9.6 FTTE.

"To add insult to injury the recent decile change gives a completely wrong impression of the economic health of Westport," Ms O'Loughlin said.

The Ministry of Education last year raised Westport's three primary schools' decile ratings from four to five, and raised Buller High School's rating from three to five.

The four schools fought to keep their decile ratings from changing.

They argued the changes were based on 2013 Census data, which didn't reflect the poor state of the local mining industry and subsequent lay-offs.

They won a temporary reprieve, which kept funding from dropping. That reprieve expired yesterday.

Buller High School (BHS) principal Andrew Basher said the schools were still fighting the decile change. The four principals had written to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, requesting a further reprieve until the ratings were reviewed again in September. Mr Basher hoped for a positive response soon.

Mrs O'Loughlin said that because many parents had lost their jobs, the North School board of trustees chose not to seek a voluntary donation from families this year.

It felt there was enough stress and financial pressure on people without the school adding to it, she said.

South School

South School principal Jo Duston said student turnover had an impact on the school.

Last year 75 children left South School for another school (including high school), and in 2014, 77 left.

The school currently had 303 students enrolled, seven fewer than last year but 11 more than in 2014.

A noticeable impact was the number of high achieving students who had left, Mrs Duston said.

"Parents who have had tertiary education have left, taking with them high achieving children, which affects all the data we send to the ministry."

In addition, a significant number of students coming in to the school had needs that required extra assistance, putting more financial pressure on the board.

Unlike North School, South School wasn't forced to cut staff, but part-time staff had had their hours adjusted.

The Government funded staff on a ratio of 1:28 for Year 4 classes and up, Mrs Duston said. "You don't get another teacher until you've got another 28 children."

Last year, South School had around 21 extra students. The board chose to fund the difference, so class numbers could be smaller.

That wasn't possible this year, Mrs Duston said. The prediction was that the roll would drop, and the board couldn't afford to fund a full-time teacher's salary.

"We [the board] decided this year that it was probably better not to fund the extra teacher, so it's meant that classes are slightly bigger.

"We didn't lose any teachers as such but part-time staff have had adjusted hours."

St Canice's

St Canice's has 132 students -- 19 fewer than the same time last year, said principal Peter Knowles.

However, enrolment numbers for 2016 were similar to previous years.

"We had a very large Year 8 group that moved onto high school at the end of last year."

There were also a number of families that left last year because of work, he said.

"Our board is committed to ensure our children are not disadvantaged in any way and have the same opportunities that they have always had."

Buller High School

The drop in the BHS roll was not as significant as Mr Basher anticipated.

There were currently around 340 students on the roll, three fewer than March 1, 2015, and 21 down on the previous year.

"Obviously, as we are staffed on student numbers, there has been a small reduction which we will need to absorb."

He expected Holcim closing mid-year would have an impact but wasn't sure how significant it would be until it happened.

"As I always say, we can only teach the ones that walk through the door and we will do our very best by them."

Reefton Area School

Reefton Area School has bucked the trend, with a rise in its roll compared to last year.

At March 1, 2016, the school had 200 students enrolled -- eight more than last year but five fewer than in 2014.

Principal Wayne Wright said he'd noticed some instability in the school's roll.

"It is subject to fluctuations as families move in and out of the area. It is very difficult to predict our future numbers and staffing entitlements."

The effects of the closure of Oceana Gold mine had been minimal, he said.

"There have been a number of new families enter into the Reefton area."

Granity School and Karamea Area School did not respond by publication today.

- Westport News

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