Last night I attended the Board of Trustees meeting at Manning Intermediate in Christchurch. It was a difficult meeting, and just as difficult as the school visits and talking with parents, teachers and students that I have been doing since last Thursday’s education bombshell was dropped on our communities.
In the last few days I have seen a look in people’s eyes that I recognise only too well. A look I have realised I have not been seeing for a few months now – one that comes with each major quake or aftershock. It is a look that is a mix of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and an inability to control what is happening around us. Last Thursday’s education announcement double act by Ministers Brownlee and Parata has been as destablising to communities and neighborhoods as any aftershock.
Manning is one of the four intermediate schools across the city earmarked for closure. It is one of ten schools in the Wigram electorate directly impacted by last Thursday’s announcement – two are to close (Manning and Branston Intermediates), one is to relocate to a new site (South Hornby), two are to merge with another school (Gilberthorpes and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Whanau Tahi) and a further four to recapitate,or move from being years 1-6 to being years 1-8 (Hoon Hay, Spreydon, West Spreydon, and Rowley Avenue), and Hornby High is to move from catering for years 9-13 to catering for year 7-13 students.
Inevitable, some might say? Christchurch has suffered major damage and,while there is no doubt that some changes are needed, there is nothing inevitable about what has been proposed. The schools in my electorate earmarked for closure, merger and relocation are in some of the least physically damaged neighbourhoods in the City. Many have had very little earthquake damage. In fact, under the proposal, South Hornby is to move on to the site vacated by Branston. Communities spared by the earthquakes are now being destroyed by the Government’s decision to close their schools.
Already much ink has been spilt and many keys pressed on how badly the Government handled the announcement. None of the school communities in my electorate saw this coming. They thought that being in projected population growth areas (due to the relative stability of the land) they would survive. This is not the case.
These communities have had no input into these decisions and initially read the Minister’s “firm proposals” as pretty much final decisions.
Here is some news for Hekia Parata and John Key. These communities are not battle weary, rather the last two years has made them battle hardened. They are not going to take these assaults on their communities without a fight. They have read your proposals and they say “thanks but no thanks”. They even have some ideas of their own that make sense in their neighbourhoods that they would like you to listen to.
Simply, they want their voices heard and they want a chance to have a say on the kind of education that is offered to their children. The document issued to schools is entitled “Opportunities plus Innovation: Education Renewal in greater Christchurch”, but I struggle to find either opportunity or innovation in shutting communities out of decisions about their futures. As their local MP, I will be there standing with our communities across the electorate as they make their views clear. As will my Labour colleagues across the city.
If you are outside of Christchurch reading this and thinking “poor Christchurch” and “look what the terrible earthquakes have caused”, think again. In fact, be afraid, very very afraid, because the Minister has made it clear that Christchurch is to be the exemplar for the rest of the country. This treatment could be coming to a community near you no matter where you are in New Zealand.