Whānau and staff at the largest kura kaupapa in the South Island are disappointed after being told by the Coalition government there isn't enough money to rebuild its leaky, substandard buildings.
It comes despite recent election campaign promises to support the revitalisation of te reo Māori and expand the network of Maori-language schools.
The Ministry of Education had been working with Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi since 2010 to come up with a plan for the rebuild.
Recently, however, the kura was told that there was not enough money to rebuild the school because of Covid-19, says Anton Matthews who is a graduate of the kura, a parent and Board of Trustees deputy chair.
“Due to rapid roll growth, we quickly outgrew the teaching and learning spaces on site. All of our junior classrooms and administration blocks have been in need of a rebuild for well over a decade – in fact, the kura has the same substandard classrooms and leaky building issues it had when I was a student here - and so we have no capacity to grow,” Matthews says.
In 2010 the Ministry of Education put out a tender for the rebuild of the kura and between 2010 and 2011 a leaky building report was commissioned by Ministry of Education. Over the next few years, an architect had been appointed, soil and sampling had been conducted and it was acknowledged that a rebuild would be more cost-effective than repair.
Tamariki and whānau impacted
"The Ministry of Education invested a great deal of time, money and energy into determining whether our kura should be rebuilt, and the answer was an emphatic yes. It only takes one look at the cramped, substandard conditions our kaiako are teaching in to know that this entire kura is well overdue for a rebuild," Matthews says.
However, in June this year, in a meeting between the ministry and kura it was announced Te Whānau Tahi “will be patched up only” but that won’t be fit for purpose, he says.
“Te Whānau Tahi has been given the runaround by the Ministry of Education for more than a decade. Records of meetings have been lost, official requests for information ignored, and lately there has been denial that a rebuild was even planned – despite physical copies of rebuild designs produced by a Ministry architect. The school invested significant time in our education brief; a document only requested by the ministry to inform its rebuild plans.”
Matthews says the whānau and tamariki have been left in limbo.
“We have been told that the rebuild was confirmed and ready to start soon. Our whānau was so relieved that, after more than a decade of being in limbo, our new kura was to become a reality. We had shared the news with our tamariki and their whānau, and there was a sense of real relief and excitement that things were underway after years of discussions,” he says.
What makes it especially challenging is that the tamariki have watched the whole of Ōtautahi being rebuilt.
Te reo revitalisation
“We drive past all of these new schools that are earthquake rebuilds and yet we still have second-rate, mouldy buildings, with damage predating even the earthquakes. While we acknowledge that all tamariki in all kura deserve to be taught in classrooms that are fit for purpose, we have waited patiently for our tur,n only to be told that our classrooms and kura must remain unfit for purpose, he says.
“The result is that our tamariki don’t experience equity and don’t feel that they are worthy of a rebuilt school, while others are.”
Matthews says it is ironic that, although the government talks of revitalising te reo Māori, the school cannot meet the demand from prospective students due to its substandard buildings and lack of space.
“We find it difficult to understand how it is okay to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to patch up a kura that will not create fit-for-future facilities.”
He says Te Whānau Tahi has been constrained at a maximum of 160 children for years and there is a growing need for te reo Māori education.
“[We] can’t accommodate tauira wanting to enrol at those year levels. Every time we raise this, we get the brushoff from the ministry. It seems that second-rate facilities are expected to be the norm for kura kaupapa Māori,” he says.
Ministry exploring other options
Head of the Education Infrastructure Service Kim Shannon says should a rebuild or relocation option be identified as the most appropriate, then the ministry would look to put in place revised funding arrangements to support that.
“We have been exploring a range of investment options for Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi to provide long term fit for purpose facilities to support their vision for teaching and learning."
She says these options include remediating the existing buildings, rebuilding on their existing site and the potential to relocate to a new site.
"We met with the kura in June and advised them the current funding for the project would only support the repair and refurbishment of the existing building, but that we were continuing to explore other options. This process is necessarily rigorous and we need to make sure the right solution is progressed."
Shannon says the ministry is fully committed to ensuring the future of Te Whānau Tahi, and supporting them in their vision for delivering Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, the New Zealand curriculum in te reo Māori.
"Until the right solution is found, we will continue to support them with any property issues that may arise."
She also says Covid-19 has had no impact on either the availability or amount of property funding available to schools.