Political shots are being fired over the Government's controversial schooling shake-up in Kawerau ahead of a community summit in the Bay of Plenty mill town tonight.
After a long-running consultation process which stirred protest from Kawerau's school communities - including a hikoi to the steps of Parliament - Education Minister Anne Tolley announced the town's college and intermediate would merge into a new senior school expected to open in 2013.
The announcement of the new campus, which comes with a bonus $6 million in funding and comprises a junior and senior school, is the last part of a large education restructure also bringing a new kura kaupapa and merging three of Kawerau's four primary schools.
Labour has described the decision as "the height of arrogance" and Kawerau Intermediate principal Daryl Aim has accused the Government of "trying to buy off the community".
Mr Aim also accused Ms Tolley of stalling the process and ignoring protests from the community to retain the 150-pupil school.
"People are just angry - for 12 months they've made it clear what they wanted - and now they've been ignored."
The school planned more protests, was investigating legal action and would be pushing for Prime Minister John Key to visit its classrooms.
"We'll be going hard to hit any political rallies in the next two weeks - especially ones that involve John Key or Anne Tolley," Mr Aim said.
The school's next steps would be discussed tonight.
He expected the issue would "blow up into a huge election issue".
Labour MP and Rotorua candidate Steve Chadwick, who will attend tonight's meeting, said the public backlash threw Ms Tolley's process into a bad light.
"I think it does discredit Anne Tolley's hands-off approach very much - and it is the height of arrogance to say, 'We're sitting here in the polls now and we're just going to do it' - people don't like that."
Her party's leader, Phil Goff, is due to visit Kawerau tomorrow.
Former Kawerau Intermediate pupil Annette Sykes, who is standing for the Mana Party in the Waiariki electorate, said she was "hugely disappointed" at the move and vowed to fight it.
"I wonder what the value is of pushing young people into secondary schools," she said. "We will not stand by and allow decile 1 areas to be relegated to the rubbish heap."
But Rotorua's National MP Todd McClay defended the decision.
"What I would say to all of those [candidates] screaming and yelling now is that they should have been with me in the town over the last 12 months, talking to me in my office, and not jumping up and down because it's election year," he said.
"Politics should be set aside, because we need to work closely with community so every child in Kawerau is given the same opportunity as children in any other part of New Zealand."
Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell said it was now time for the community to "move on, get behind it and make it work".