A plan for regional "hubs" to take powers from elected school boards of trustees faces a growing backlash, with two groups of schools uniting to fight it.
One group representing a majority of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association is slamming the plan as exacerbating the biggest problem they face - a critical teacher shortage.
A wider national group calling itself the Community Schools Alliance says the plan threatens the distinctive identity of schools ranging from Māori iwi schools to conservative Auckland Grammar.
The plan, proposed by a taskforce led by former principal Bali Haque, would set up about 20 regional "hubs" to "assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school boards of trustees".
The plan aims to close the divide between rich and poor schools that has developed under the 30-year-old self-managing model called "Tomorrow's Schools" by giving the hubs powers to use principals, teachers and resources where they are most needed.
NZ Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick told his members yesterday that principals who have replied to a federation survey so far oppose four key elements of the plan:
• Boards of trustees with diminished responsibilities advising on curriculum and assessment.
• Hubs governed by a board appointed wholly by the minister.
• Five-year contracts for principals.
• Principals and teachers being employed by hubs.
He said most principals wanted to allow each school board to choose whether to stay as they are or accept reduced board responsibilities and access services from a hub.
Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Richard Dykes, of Glendowie College, said reshuffling the bureaucracy would draw money and staff away from schools at a time of a desperate teacher shortage.
"If there is one absolutely shared viewpoint, the crisis in Auckland schools is the shortage of quality staff, and we fear that pouring time and financial resources into rearranging the bureaucracy will push the most critical issue further down the tracks," he said.
In an article for the Weekend Herald, he says that, to be effective, the proposed hubs would need significantly more staff than current Ministry of Education regional offices.
"Where would this [staff] come from?" he asks
"The Haque report suggests from schools. This would be great as it draws in the expertise of educators. But it would also draw valuable talent away from schools at a time when we have a chronic shortage of teachers."
Northcote College principal Vicki Barrie said rearranging the bureaucracy would not solve New Zealand's "long tail of under-achievement".
"We have limited time and limited resources. We have to do the thing that is going to make the biggest difference," she said. "The first thing that needs to happen is that there needs to be a significant pay increase for teachers."
Tāmaki College principal Soana Pamaka said hubs would be "removed from your community".
"What works for the Pacific community in Māngere is not going to work for the Pacific community in Glen Innes," she said.
The Community Schools Alliance is expected to hold a public launch in the next few days. Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor said the main aim was to alert the public to the proposals and encourage people to make a submission before the closing date of April 7.
A draft brochure bears the logos of Auckland schools Macleans College, Massey High School, Mt Albert Grammar, Rangitoto College, St Peter's College and Westlake Boys' High School, as well as Auckland Grammar.
The group has also reached out to primary schools and tribal schools, or kura-a-iwi. Pem Bird, principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau in Murupara, said he had added his kura's logo to the brochure.
"My board of trustees was set up under a special constitution," he said. "It guarantees us that the Tangata Whenua will be sitting supporting the board of trustees in the decision making. It gives mana to those people.
"We believe this [hub control] will dilute that. It will take away the licence, the mana of that group."
However, the proposals have been supported at some of the public meetings which the taskforce is holding, and even some Auckland secondary principals are backing the proposed hubs.
Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos said the hubs "have the potential to play a pivotal role in creating what could be a new, more efficient educational ecosystem which will hopefully be given the freedom to respond to schools and the communities as needed."