30 Jan 2016

Charter school forced to repay Crown?

9:46 am on 30 January 2016

The government last year refused to consider the survival of a Northland charter school unless its owners agreed to reimburse the Crown if it was shut down, documents show.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Education Minister Hekia Parata would not confirm if the trust that owned the failed Te Pumanawa o te Wairua school had agreed to reimburse the Crown.

New Zealand First said the government must ensure it is reimbursed if any more charter schools close.

Documents obtained by the party under the Official Information Act show the government last year wanted the owners of the school at Whangaruru to agree to sell its property and chattels if it closed.

A spokesman for Ms Parata would not say how the trust responded to that request. He said only that the school's land and other assets would be the subject of a commercial negotiation process.

The documents also say that the school at Whangaruru is on land that could be used for a Treaty settlement with local iwi Ngati Wai.

The charter school about a week before opening in February.

The charter school shortly before it opened in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Education Review Office documents showed the school, originally known as Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru cost taxpayers $2.4 million in its first six months.

The government spent $1.3 million on a coastal farm property for the school, which has been beset by problems since it opened in February 2014.

NZ First wants return of taxpayer money

New Zealand First education spokesperson Tracey Martin said the contracts for the first five charter schools, which include the failed Whangaruru school, make no mention of reimbursement.

"The four that are left of the original five, she (the minister) should be making sure that they will sign over that their assets will be returned to the taxpayer should they fail.

"Of the new ones that she has signed off since, I would hope that there is a clause now in there that says: 'Should you fail, should you fold, should you close, all assets bought with taxpayers' money will be returned to the taxpayer.'"

A spokesman for Ms Parata said contracts for future charter schools would allow the government to recover funding if a school failed during its first three years.