8 Dec 2015

Church and trust split over Auckland boarding school's future

6:30 pm on 8 December 2015

There is a storm brewing at Auckland's last standing Māori boarding school, Hato Petera College.

Hato Petera College

Hato Petera College Photo: Google Maps

A clear split has seen the Catholic Church, which owns the buildings, in one corner and Te Whānau o Hato Petera Trust, which represents family and students, in the other.

The whānau trust board announced yesterday it was reopening the school's boarding facilities.

In a statement released today, the Catholic Diocese of Auckland said it was surprised and most concerned about the trust's announcement.

It was disowning the current group of trustees, saying they were not legally constituted despite their claims they represented the whānau of Hato Petera.

Te Whānau o Hato Petera Trust said yesterday the boarding facilities would be open for business in 2016, and that the u-turn was based on a "new lease on life".

The whānau trust's chairman Murray Painting told RNZ hundreds of former students had committed to rebuilding and renovating the buildings, which had become dilapidated.

The state of the buildings were raised in Education Review Office reports, and the church had decided it was not financially viable to fix them.

The land where the buildings were built and have stood for decades was gifted by the Crown for the purposes of Māori education. It was also the subject of a Waitangi Tribunal Claim.

A source from the whānau trust told RNZ they were confident that the board was not illegally constituted and had a clear process.

Former New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O'Sullivan was the previous chairman of the trust's board, and was the frontperson behind the boarding facilities' closure two months ago. He and a number of other trustees stepped away after the accommodation facilities closed down.

Mr Painting, who replaced Dr O'Sullivan, said yesterday it was time for Hato Petera to review its approach as it looked to the future sustainability of the kura.

The new board said by "refreshing of the governance team of the trust, we are determined to meet this challenge head-on".

But the Catholic Diocese of Auckland said work was underway to dissolve Te Whānau o Hato Petera Trust for reasons of insolvency.

It said the lease agreement with the trust was due to be terminated because of the trust's failure over an extended period of time to adequately maintain the facilities.

The facilities are owned by the Church and, despite the trust board's announcement that they were to be reopened, the diocese said that would not be happening.

The trust board has still been welcoming parents, students and staff to look ahead to 2016.

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