Education

Former charter school remains in property limbo

A former charter school remains in limbo, with the Ministry of Education unable to find a suitable property despite 50 options being out on the table.

Last year, the Ministry of Education began the process of working with all 12 charter schools (partnership schools), to transition to becoming state schools, under the designated special character schools, following the Government’s decision to scrap the charter school model.

The ministry gave itself a timeline of 9-12 months to get things straight, with the ministry taking over responsibility for property previously owned or managed by the charter schools and their sponsors.

But Rise Up Academy in South Auckland remains without a permanent property solution.

The school is run out of a site on Rosella Rd in Mangere East, but the ministry does not believe the site is suitable long-term.

Since the school's application to move to the state model was approved in September - following other property issues - the ministry has put forward 50 property options for the school to consider.

However, for a range of reasons, the school has not seen the options as suitable, and parents have become frustrated.

One of the suggested sites was a building in a strip mall in Ōtāhuhu. The property has barbed wire at the periphery.

Newsroom understands another option was the fourth floor of a multi-storey building in an industrial zone; another was 14 kilometres from the current Mangere site, which some who had been involved with the school said was too far for the primary school children to travel each day.

The South Auckland school is based on improving educational outcomes for Pacific and Māori children. It currently has a roll of roughly 75 children but hoped to grow to 101 students.

"We have considered more than 50 alternative sites for Rise Up which for various reasons haven’t been quite suitable."

Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said the current site in Mangere East, was too small to support the school’s growth plans and was not the quality expected for a state school.

The lack of certainty has caused frustration within the school community. Following inquiries by Newsroom in recent weeks, the ministry and school announced they had found a short-term solution.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins, said “as of today”, all schools had classrooms sorted. But in the case of Rise Up, the solution is only short-term.

While the ministry and Rise Up’s Establishment Board of Trustees found a long-term property solution, the ministry would seek a lease extension at the Mangere East property to allow the school to remain on the site for the rest of 2019.

“We have considered more than 50 alternative sites for Rise Up which for various reasons haven’t been quite suitable,” Shannon said.

The ministry and school were now considering the medium-term plan of moving Rise Up onto the property of a local school.

Some property development would be needed at the school to provide Rise Up with its own entrance and dedicated classrooms.

The school's current site in Mangere East, where Rise Up has run classes since its inception. Photo: Google Maps

Shannon said the ministry was in the process of finalising the arrangement with Rise Up and the other school, “with the expectation that Rise Up Academy would move and stay until a long-term solution is found”.

“Our primary consideration when looking for both long- and short-term property options is the quality of a property and whether it will meet the needs of a school.

“However, we also need to be prudent with taxpayer funds, and costs like lease costs need to be linked to market rates,” she said.

The ministry did not respond to questions regarding the allocated property budget for Rise Up or other partnership schools transitioning to become state schools.

Newsroom understands part of the issue with the current property in Mangere East was the rising costs of property in Auckland. The state of the market had seen the lease cost double since the school first moved in.

Rise Up Trust chief executive, and school principal, Sita Selupe refused to comment for fear of jeopardising discussions with the ministry.

“At this time we have made some good progress regarding our property transition. Our board are reluctant to comment at this time,” she said.

"It’s bad enough when the school stays still and the kids move around, now, largely thanks to the Ministry of Education, you’ve got a proposition where the school’s moving too.”

Hipkins said he always knew there would be some longer-term property issues the Government would have to address.

“I’m concerned that some of the current arrangements they’ve got really aren’t that ideal.

“It’s not a good standard of schooling accommodation. But in the meantime, they’re staying put.”

The property some partnership schools had been operating was not providing the right kind of learning environment, Hipkins said.

ACT leader David Seymour, who has remained a champion for charter schools since their inception, said one of the biggest issues facing partnership schools, and all schools in low-decile areas, was the transient student population.

“It’s bad enough when the school stays still and the kids move around, now, largely thanks to the Ministry of Education, you’ve got a proposition where the school’s moving too.”

Seymour said he didn’t understand why the ministry - a major property owner in Auckland - hadn't been unable to find a couple of suitable classrooms for Rise Up.

ACT leader David Seymour said schools in low-decile areas already had a major issue with the transient student population when schools stayed still, now there was proposition where the school would move too. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

“I think the sponsors of partnership schools have suffered with enormous humility, as the Ministry of Education has run roughshod over them, in many instances...

“And I think that more generally what partnership school kids have gone through – going to school in a fishbowl because of the political opposition from people who weren’t even involved in the schools - has been a great shame.”

Meanwhile, National’s education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the ministry and minister needed to treat these schools well.

“They’ve got a situation where they’ve gotta have permanent homes and I think there’s some real issues with some schools ... Part of it comes down to good negotiating power in terms of the Ministry of Education,” she said.

The ministry was also working with Te Kapehu Whetu – Tuakana in Whangarei to finalise its property requirements, which it expected to have sorted in the next couple of months.

He Puna Marama Charitable Trust – the school’s sponsor – was working with the ministry and council over a building the trust currently leased off the council for its senior campus.

Trust head Raewyn Tipene said all immediate property requirements had been sorted, and she was happy with how it had been handled. They were waiting on the council to decide on the future of the leased building, and the possibility of acquiring a separate neighbouring site to use in the future.

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