West Auckland schools are blaming the TV3 show Westside for driving away thousands of students who travel out of the area to schools in the central city.
Five local secondary school principals have issued a joint statement saying the TV show's portrayal of the fictional West family's "petty criminal lives" makes it hard to get positive news about their schools across to parents.
"Parents do get influenced by TV programmes like Westside, who conclude they don't want their children mixing with people like the Wests," the statement said.
"While Westside is described as a comedy/drama by its makers, the principals find its theme anything but funny."
Massey High School principal Glen Denham was quoted as saying he was "gobsmacked that NZ On Air has funded the TV series to the tune of $25.5 million for four series while schools have a constant struggle for funding".
Ministry of Education data showed that 3100 West Auckland students travelled out of the area each day to attend schools in Central Auckland, and another 800 attended North Shore schools, in 2012.
West Auckland's eight state secondary schools had a combined roll of only 8244 last year, only half of the 16,832 students who attended the eight state secondary schools on the western side of the central isthmus from Avondale College to Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar.
Government operational and staff funding was $60 million for the eight West Auckland schools, $104 million for the eight isthmus schools, and $128 million for NZ On Air, which has given $25.5 million to Westside since 2014 including a fourth series funded last month>.
Questioned about the statement, Denham admitted it was "all tongue in cheek really", but said the schools were genuinely struggling.
"It's all great entertainment, but it seems a lot of money to spend on a TV programme, especially given the way schools are funded," he said.
"Funding in New Zealand is just so tight for schools. If we all got $1 million each out here, we could work miracles."
Kelston Boys High School principal Brian Evans said the West Auckland schools were battling to change a public perception that children could get a better education elsewhere.
"We were all thinking at the time about why are so many students leaving West Auckland," he said.
"In fact we are performing at really high levels. There are many schools that have a five-year ERO [Education Review Office] review."
ERO currently has five of the eight West Auckland secondary schools on a four-to-five-year review cycle, indicating its highest level of confidence: Massey High School, Waitakere College, Kelston Boys High, Kelston Girls College and Green Bay High.
The other three are on three-year reviews: Henderson High, Rutherford College and the new Hobsonville Point Secondary School.
All except one of the eight western-isthmus state secondary schools are on four-to-five-year reviews. Auckland Girls Grammar is the only exception with a one-to-two-year review.
NZ On Air head of communications Allanah Kalafatelis said Westside "shouldn't be taken too seriously".
"Westside is fiction based in the 1970s and 80s. The creative team behind Westside have done a great job of making an entertaining series," she said.
South Pacific Pictures, which makes the series, said: "The West family portrayed in Westside are fictional characters and the show is set in the 1980s. Westside - and its predecessor, Outrageous Fortune - have always celebrated West Auckland and all that the area has to offer."