A failed Northland charter school received $5.2 million over a little more than two years and there is no guarantee taxpayers will get back remaining assets worth nearly $1 million.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has terminated the agreement with Nga Parirau Matauranga Charitable Trust, which operates Te Pumanawa o te Wairua charter school at Whangaruru. In December, Ms Parata proposed terminating the agreement because of the kura's poor student achievement and inadequate curriculum leadership, and gave the trust until January 15 to provide her with a response to the proposal. On Tuesday, she informed the trust of her final decision to close the school.

The school, which opened at the beginning of 2014, has received a total of $5,234,149.21 (excluding GST) in establishment and annual payments. Katrina Casey, head of sector enablement and support for the Ministry of Education, said part of the sum includes funding that had been paid in advance for the first quarter of 2016 and will be recovered. She did not say how much that was.

However, the school has land and buildings with a book value of $1,160,000, and an estimated sale value of $750,000, and there is no guarantee the Crown will get that back. "Now that a formal decision has been made we will enter into formal negotiations with the trust around all elements of the closure. We won't be able to make any comment on those negotiations until after they are complete and the school is closed," Ms Casey said.


The decision to terminate the agreement was made following a specialist audit conducted in October which showed while the current board had made progress in addressing the problems which led to the issuing of a performance notice in February, there were still unsolved issues.

School kaumatua Hori Parata (left) and trustee Robert Carpenter at Te Pumanawa o te Wairua charter school in Whangaruru. Photo / John Stone
School kaumatua Hori Parata (left) and trustee Robert Carpenter at Te Pumanawa o te Wairua charter school in Whangaruru. Photo / John Stone

Ms Parata said: "After considering the trust's response to my proposal to terminate the agreement, I have concluded that the educational challenges facing the school are too great to be overcome."

Among those challenges were the kura's heavy reliance on third parties to take it forward, lack of internal capability, the difficulty of attracting suitably qualified teaching staff to Whangaruru, and concerns over whether a viable student base exists for the kura.

Ms Parata said her decision was not a reflection on the current trust board's efforts or capabilities.

School kaumatua Hori Parata was too upset to comment. The Advocate also attempted to contact trustees Wayne Johnston and Robert Carpenter, but they could not be reached.

The trust's chairwoman Dee-Ann Brown told the Advocate the trust would not be commenting at this stage. However, in December Ms Brown said: "We have received the minister's decision with regret. Whatever action we take will be in the best interests of our students and their whanau."

Of the 40 students enrolled at the end of last year, three have moved to Australia, one has entered the workforce, and two have entered tertiary study.

A spokesman for Ms Parata said: "Potential alternate schools have been identified for the remaining 34 students. Now the decision has been confirmed, plans for these 34 will be finalised. Among other things, the plans will address transport options and support needs."

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the students of the school had been failed by a "charter school experiment".

"These kids were the unwitting victims ... and the minister must now promise all the resources that they need to ensure their education can be salvaged."

The termination will take effect on March 7.