Staff at a Masterton school desperate for teaching space have spoken out of class to the Times-Age in the hope of resolving an apparent impasse with the Ministry of Education [MoE].
“We are going to have to lose our library, and this is at a time when we want to promote literacy for our students,” Lakeview School principal Tim Nelson said.
“I think it’s incredibly unfair and I feel like we are not being supported by the Ministry at all.”
Nelson explained that between 2013 and 2016 – before he became principal – the school’s roll was smaller and projected to drop to the low 300s.
As a result, MoE served formal notice to the Lakeview School Board that two education support agencies – Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour Service [RTLB], and Central Regional Health School – would indefinitely use three classrooms at the school that were spare at the time.
But after the agreement was signed, instead of decreasing, enrolments grew by about 50 students each subsequent year and classroom space became extremely limited, Nelson said.
The ideal enrolment “sweet spot” is 473, but the current roll is essentially two full classrooms above that at 525.
While four classrooms at Lakeview School undergo renovations, instead of moving into a spare classroom as in previous years, each displaced class will use the library this term on a rotation basis.
Although this is a temporary measure, Nelson expects the roll to increase by 50 again in the middle of the year as new juniors start school.
This would mean the school needing to close the library and use it as a classroom for the rest of the year – and if more space is needed, the school hall would be next.
Lakeview has turned its storage room, counsellor’s office, and sensory room for high-needs students into classrooms and decommissioned the IT suite, which is less than ideal, Nelson said.
Although he doesn’t want to create panic about inappropriate teaching spaces, Nelson said the school is facing a struggle.
“Whatever happens, the students will always be okay, they’ll always have a place that works for them. But it puts massive pressure on our teachers.”
Lakeview has many children who score the highest on the deprivation index within the lower half of the North Island, Nelson noted.
“It’s a massive compromise to us, and it makes our children more vulnerable.”
Lakeview learning support coordinator Erin Williams said space wasn’t an issue when the two agencies moved in, but the situation has become impossibly difficult since they went from seven empty classrooms to zero.
“There is no room, we are absolutely crammed full of kids,” she said.
“God knows where we are going to put them.”
Williams is also concerned the school’s high-needs kids – who are variously in wheelchairs, non-verbal, autistic, and have sensory needs – have been relocated from their purpose-built classroom.
“It’s not a very big space, not fit for purpose at all,” she said.
Lakeview School has a “massive range of learning abilities and styles,” Williams added, including special needs and low socio-economic kids who face the impacts of poverty.
“There are five-year-olds coming through the door who just are not ready for school, some of them can barely speak.
“You can’t understand them, they aren’t even toilet trained.”
The Lakeview Board is aware and supportive, and funded a teacher to reduce class sizes last year, Williams said.
The school is not appropriately zoned, which increases the school’s growth because it is legally obligated to accept any enrolment, which Williams believes indicates the government is not planning for population growth.
MoE’s Hautū Te Tai Runga [South leader] Nancy Bell has responded to the Times-Age’s request for comment with a statement that notes the ministry is aware of Lakeview’s situation and has met with school representatives to discuss it.
However, it appears the bureaucracy is reluctant to budge.
“When the board signed a Property Occupancy Document [POD] with RTLB in 2017 the buildings were surplus to requirement and would have been flagged for removal from the site,” Bell said.
“There was a POD variation signed for Central Regional Health School in 2018.
“The building occupied by RTLB is no longer school space.
“Unfortunately, the school cannot reclaim the space because the agreement is in perpetuity and as the legitimate users the RTLB/Health School cannot be relocated.
“We are working on developing and implementing an enrolment scheme to reduce growth pressure on the school.
“We will monitor the roll and if necessary, once a scheme had been approved and implemented and there was an ongoing need for additional roll growth, we would work with the school at that point on additional classrooms subject to budget approval.”
Due to Lakeview School’s 10 year property plan, building upgrades of other classrooms are currently being undertaken, which requires the use of the library and alternative school spaces, including the temporary relocation of their sensory room, Bell noted.
“For any children with additional needs, we can consider property modifications in their current space.
“We understand the school wanting to provide a quality learning environment and will support them to achieve that.
“We will keep working with them as we progress solutions to manage the roll growth and the risk of overcrowding.
“The POD agreement was signed under Section 70 of the Education Act  – 20. Surplus property disposal was one of the considerations.
“The tenancy agreement can only be rescinded by another formal variation, which is an action only the ministry can take.”