Big business and community groups setting up charter schools have been advised to go shopping for students at local malls.

Catherine Isaac, the former Act Party president appointed to set up the new privately-sponsored schools, proposed the retail education tactic at a small public meeting this week. But she faced a loud accusation of racism from the secondary teachers' union, which is scathing about the potential for "McDonald's schools" or campuses sponsored by controversial Act donor Louis Crimp.

Isaac, the Charter School Working Group chair, raised the prospect of recruiting charter school students from shopping malls at the Auckland meeting. She cited the example of charter schools marketing themselves in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina disrupted public school enrolment.

"They came up with a range of solutions to that. One of those was having stalls in shopping malls where people could see what the schools were about."


The Post Primary Teachers' Association ridiculed that idea.

"The notion of a charter school promoting itself in the local mall seems quite a silly idea, really," PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker said.

Isaac said business people and iwi groups had approached her, interested in sponsoring their own schools. They would be allowed to fill the boards entirely with their own appointees, if they chose to, or include some elected members of the local community.

PPTA official Bronwyn Cross interjected at the meeting, describing the idea of placing the new schools in impoverished areas of south Auckland and Porirua as racism.

Isaac dismissed that, saying charter schools could not cherry-pick students. "To call it racism is bizarre. What we're trying to do is provide another option for parents whose needs are not being met by the current system."

National's Maungakiekie MP, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, hosted the meeting and calmed some of the more angry rhetoric.

"I've never heard of a charter school being racist in my life," Lotu-Iiga said yesterday.

"I think it was more of a provocative statement, rather than anything that had any substance."

In March, the Herald on Sunday named five groups that had expressed interest in setting up charter schools. They were Canterbury Youth Development Programme, former Christchurch mayor Vicki Buck with the local Unlimited School, Victoria University's Faculty of Education, Manukau Christian Charitable Trust, and Mt Hobson Middle School.

But the PPTA opposed the idea of sponsorship. Bunker said: "If there are commercial people out there wanting to contribute to the school system, they'd be better to pay additional taxes actually."

New Orleans anti-charter school campaigner Karran Harper Royal, who is being brought out by the union for a speaking tour, said she could imagine a New Zealand school named after McDonald's, or any other corporation.

"Where I live, there is a charter school network sponsored by a bank. It's called the Capital One-New Beginnings Charter School Network."