Is this a “Pathway” to save Partnership schools?

A school that was earmarked for closure by the previous National government has been “saved” by Chris Hipkins as an early Christmas present to the staff and families of the school. Keeping the school open costs $300k+ per student per annum but when you are lucky enough to have the Labour government on your side cost is not a factor it seems. School staff and families have been living day to day with no idea of their fate just like the staff and families of Partnership schools are currently living.

The pathway that the school followed to save their school from a National government that was hell-bent on closure may possibly be a pathway that Partnership schools can follow in their upcoming battle to the death with the Labour government.

The long battle to save Salisbury School, near Nelson, has been won.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins on Thursday delivered an early Christmas present to the team at the only national single-sex residential school for girls with intellectual disabilities.

“I have agreed to end the closure process started in June 2016 by the previous government,” Hipkins said. “Salisbury School has been informed of this via letter and email, providing them with certainty leading into the Christmas break.”

A pleased board of trustees chairman John Kane said the announcement formally closed what had been a prolonged and difficult process that went back to 2012 when then-Education Minister Hekia Parata first attempted to close the school but lost the fight in the High Court.

Kane said when he joined the board of the Richmond-based school in 2014, he realised the 2012 court case was not the end of the story.

“The board was well aware that the agenda was to close,” he said. “Minister Parata was very determined on that matter ? and we saw her off.”

[…] There was clear pre-election support for Salisbury from other key political parties including the Greens, NZ First and Labour. Just a few weeks before the polls closed, Hipkins, in his role as the Labour Party education spokesman, said a Labour-led government would keep Salisbury open.

On Thursday, he delivered on that pledge with talk of a “sustainable pathway” and “long-term solution” for Salisbury.

Kane said many people had backed the school and its fight to stay open including West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor, Associate Education Minister with responsibility for students with special needs Tracey Martin and Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne.

“There’s so many people who have stayed with us,” Kane said. “Some of the parents have put an enormous amount of time into canvassing for support [and] members of the wider community in Nelson have put in a lot of effort.”

The board itself had been “utterly determined and it’s paid off”.

So what lessons can Partnership schools learn from Salisbury school in their fight to remain open?

Kane had high praise for the staff at Salisbury.

“Stoic is the word.?The staff have . . . stoically stayed at their posts in the most difficult of circumstances.

“So many of them must have felt tempted to look for jobs elsewhere [but] their loyalty to Salisbury was sustained right through. The board’s hugely grateful to the staff.”

One of the missions of the Salisbury team had been?to get to the election and hope that whatever government was formed, would have enough support for the school within it “and of course, as it turned out, both ministers are sworn supporters”.

“It came down to the legal iron fist,” Kane said. “We were able to force the delays through complex . . . legal argument around human rights.”

Partnership schools can use expensive legal delay tactics but unlike Salisbury school, they do not have any Ministers with power right now who are sworn supporters. The question then is whether or not they can tie up the Labour government in court until the next election in the hope that a National-led government will save them. Most of the schools have 2-3 years left to go on their current contracts so it may be possible for some of them to stay open till then.

[…] Kempthorne said he had been a supporter of the school because he saw its value for the young people from around New Zealand who attended.

“It’s part of our community,” he said. “I can see what they’re providing is so valuable.”