17 Oct 2015

Schism within Presbyterian church over funding of school

8:04 pm on 17 October 2015

The Presbyterian Church's Māori division has rounded on its General Assembly, accusing it of walking away from its partnership to fund and support Turakina Māori Girls' College.

Demonstration at Parliament by Turakina Māori Girls' College students campaigning to keep the kura open.

Demonstration at Parliament by Turakina Māori Girls' College students campaigning to keep the kura open. Photo: RNZ / Laura Bootham

The kura is earmarked for possible closure and the chair of Te Aka Puaho - the Maori Synod, Reverend Wayne Te Kaawa, said the General Assembly and Central Presbytery has left the Synod struggling alone to support it.

The General Assembly represents the whole Presbyterian Church while the Central Presbytery serves 88 Presbyterian and Union Churches in the lower North Island.

A schism has formed in the church with the Reverend Wayne Te Kaawa saying that since appealing to the church for more funds the silence has been deafening.

"The Pākehā side of the church sort of became quiet... silent, non-involved and we were basically left holding the can, and so we've done the best we can knowing that in the Māori part of the church we simply do not have the funds."

Reverend Wayne Te Kaawa said while the Anglican church has provided a huge amount of support for its remaining kura, his church has not.

"It is embarrassing for me and my church to have to go cap in hand to my church to ask for help, for funding. When all is going well Turakina is referred to as that 'gem', that 'jewel in the Presbyterian Crown', but when things aren't going well and we have to ask for help, all of a sudden Turakina goes from being the jewel in the Presbyterian Crown, to being 'that Māori school over there with problems'."

The Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell criticised the churches that run Māori boarding schools saying they were not fulfilling their obligations by upgrading them and making a bigger financial contribution.

Mr Te Kaawa said that comment rang true in relation to Turakina.

"He is right. The Māori side of the church, we simply don't have the funds... in the case of Turakina two of the partners walked away in the last couple of years and left the Māori side of the church holding the school and we simply don't have the funds, so in that sense I would say the Minister is absolutely correct."

Shock to discover church $180 million in surplus

The school's Board of Trustees is also challenging the Presbyterian Church and said it could not help wonder how it was that the church held approximately $180 million in the Presbyterian Investment Fund and yet had allowed the school to deteriorate.

A trustee, Piri-Hira Tukapua, said the 'jewel' appeared to have been thrown on the stockpile with no recourse from the church.

"During our consultation rounds the question has emerged, what is the church's commitment to Turakina given that it appears they have allowed the partnership to lapse?

"The evident concern from the Minister [of Education] about the seeming indifference of the proprietors [Presbyterian Church] to our fate is the foremost issue for our Board."

Hemaima Eichstaedt

Hemaima Eichstaedt Photo: RNZ / Laura Bootham

President of Turakina Māori Girls' College Old Girls Association or Nga Wahine Tawhito o Turakina Nga Hara, Hemaima Eichstaedt, said the discovery was a shock to the Board of Trustees because the association had been told by the Presbyterian church representatives at an earlier meeting with the Minister of Education that it had no money.

"They said collectively the Presbyterian church doesn't have any money to help the school."

Ms Eichstaedt said the Presbyterian Church's stance had been disheartening.

"Especially when you find their financial report online and know how much of a surplus they're in and how much they're not contributing towards the school."

Turakina/Old Girls tangi (cry) as they lead a haka by Turakina students and supporters up to Parliament.

Turakina/Old Girls tangi (cry) as they lead a haka by Turakina students and supporters up to Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Laura Bootham

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