PHOTO/FILE

Ag solution floated

STEVE RENDLE
steve.rendle@age.co.nz

Ninety-four years of boarding at Wairarapa College will end this year, shocked staff and students have been told.

Board chairwoman Maria McKenzie said a combination of dropping enrolments and buildings in dire need of maintenance and refurbishment had made the decision to close the hostel unavoidable.

At least $1 million of work was required to the hostel buildings to make them fit for purpose, she said, but even if funding was available, other factors meant the boarding operation was not financially viable.

“It is an incredibly difficult decision that the board has fought long and hard not to have to make,” McKenzie said.

“It is a very complex set of factors, all impacting on the bottom line and the financial viability … everywhere we looked, everywhere we investigated, we came up with more problems.”

This year there are 63 pupils at the hostel, 16 Year 9, 14 Year 10, 13 Year 11, 10 Year 12, and 10 Year 13.

But McKenzie said the board was committed to finding a way for boarders to continue their education at the college.

“The board is in discussions about how this can occur … plans are being put in place.”

Information provided to parents on Friday, showed the hostel going through a rollercoaster of cash surpluses followed by deficits – a $63,728 surplus in 2009 followed by a $17,056 deficit in 2010; a $56,571 surplus in 2013, followed by a $34,154 deficit, followed by a $87,877 surplus in 2015.

The past two years have been particularly difficult, with a $104,125 deficit in 2017, followed by a provisional $178,741 deficit last year. A deficit of $91,319 is forecast for 2019.

McKenzie agreed the cycle was strange – “It does look very odd … we don’t really know why that is the case.”

While it appears delays in providing upkeep in the past have affected the state of the buildings, the board was elected only last year, having its first meeting in May.

The school was in statutory management before that, under the control of a commissioner after debt problems.

McKenzie would not comment on the lead-up to today’s issues.

“The board is responsible for the last 12 months. We cannot make any comment on what went on before that.”

The Ministry of Education will not provide any funding for hostels, and put pressure on the board to take action now.

“The speed and timing of the decision by the board is somewhat dictated by the Ministry of Education who identified the hostel as a risk to the school and asked the board to address this,” McKenzie
told parents.

Meanwhile, Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty thinks boarding facilities at the college could have a future if it linked in with the provider that comes out of the collapse of Taratahi Institute of Agriculture.

“I would like to think there is huge scope in increasing the number of boarders in our schools in Wairarapa.”

He said the number of day pupils is at capacity so any scope for growth remains in the boarding area – so it was a real shame to see one of those boarding establishments closing.

Boarders performed a passionate haka at Friday’s assembly after the announcement and a call for community support by boarder Sarah Byl.

McKenzie said the anger and sadness of pupils was “an entirely appropriate response”.

Wairarapa College hostel cash flow

2015                     2016                   2017                2018 [provisional]     2019 [projected]
$87,877                $19,967              -$104,125        -$178,741                 -$91,319
106 boarders       100 boarders      76 boarders      65 boarders               63 boarders