Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Auckland schools find themselves at centre of unexpected Mt Roskill byelection battle

Prime Minister John Key and Parmjeet Parmar visited the Waikowhai Intermediate School in Mt Roskill today. Picture / NZME
Prime Minister John Key and Parmjeet Parmar visited the Waikowhai Intermediate School in Mt Roskill today. Picture / NZME

Two schools in an Auckland suburb became an unexpected battleground today in the squabble over who will win Mt Roskill.

The seat is up for grabs after Phil Goff won the Auckland mayoralty.

Today, Waikowhai Primary and Waikowhai Intermediate schools found themselves at the centre of a political fracas, as the two key candidates attempt to woo the electorate.

READ MORE: Labour hits back at 'manhandling' claim

National's Dr Parmjeet Parmar brought out the big guns - Prime Minister John Key and Education Minister Hekia Parata - to accompany her on visits to two local schools and a number of businesses.

But Labour candidate Michael Wood hit out at Parata, saying her office had made an embarrassing blunder in organising the school visits.

Parata's office had contacted the principal of Waikowhai Primary to request a visit to the school - not realising Wood was the chairman of the school's board of trustees, he said.

"Because I chair the board at Waikowhai, the principal thought it best to decline the request," Wood said.

However, he said offered to have a sit-down meeting with the minister at 3pm todaybut he had not received a response.

He wanted to quiz her on National's plans to fund schools in the Mt Roskill electorate.

"The National Government's funding proposals mean that 21 of the 22 schools in Mt Roskill will receive less OPEX funding than they would have, had the current year's funding simply been increased for inflation. That's extremely concerning to the local community," he said.

"People in Mt Roskill are rightly worried that educational quality could be affected by National's proposals."

Wood vowed to be waiting at the school's gate to greet her at 3pm.

Meanwhile, Parata, Parmar and Key visited Mt Roskill Primary and Waikowhai Intermediate school, where they met school leaders and talked to pupils.

The National trio, flanked by several security guards and press secretaries, were met at Waikowhai Intermediate by excited students, banging on doors and windows, waving and screaming at the Prime Minister.

They later sat down in Class 3 and spoke to the students about their work and what school they wanted to go to next.

Key spoke to the pupils about their use of technology in the classroom, and confided that his son Max often used online tutorials to help him study at university.

Parmar and Parata left the intermediate school in the same car at around 2.35pm.

However, they did not drive the 1.3km to Waikowhai Primary, where Wood was waiting.

Wood told the Herald afterwards it was "a lost opportunity".

However, a spokeswoman for Parata said her schedule was too busy to "entertain Mr Wood's misguided political stunt".

"The minister had a full schedule of events in Auckland today, including school visits in Mt Roskill. She did not have time to entertain Mr Wood's misguided political stunt," she said.

"If he had questions for the minister, he should have used the public education forum she attended in Mt Roskill last month as his opportunity to do so."

Waikowhai Primary's principal Germaine Peterson had advised the minister's office "that now was not the right time for the Minister to visit the school, so we will look to arrange another time in the future", the spokeswoman said.

Earlier, Parmar hit out at Woods' comments about education funding, saying he had "fail[ed] at simple math".

"The Government has increased operation grant funding for schools by 1 per cent this year, which is more than double the current rate of inflation of 0.4 per cent. This funding is being targeted to those students most at risk of under-achieving.

"All schools in Mt Roskill will receive a share of this funding based on the number of students they have that met the criteria.

"Waikowhai [Primary] School ... is getting an increase of 1.25 per cent, which is more than what his school would have received had the Government simply increased funding by 1 per cent across the board."

She accused Wood of "playing fast and loose with the truth".

But Wood said he stuck by his figures, saying they were based on the projected inflation figure of 1.5 per cent for next year, and under those maths Mt Roskill schools would get $121,000 less in funding.

- NZ Herald

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