Tuturumuri School. PHOTO/FILE
The tiny rural Wairarapa school fighting for its existence after being left with no students now has the government to contend with.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced yesterday that a consultation process to determine if Tuturumuri School, near Martinborough, should close will begin immediately.
Last year, the school’s roll of nine students started to decline to zero after the school bus route was cut.
There was a glimmer of hope in December last year with word of two new enrolments for 2018, but these had not eventuated by the end of January.
Mr Hipkins said yesterday two students had now been enrolled.
But he questioned whether keeping the school open was financially viable even though he acknowledged the important role the school had played in the community over the years.
“New students were expected to enrol at the start of this term, but that did not happen.
“However, two enrolments from a family returning to the area have recently been received,” he said.
“Despite these new enrolments, we need to seriously consider whether keeping this school open is the best use of taxpayer money.
“I’ve asked the Ministry of Education to begin consultation on the possible closure of the school.”
The school’s principal and board chair have resigned, with Jocelyn Busby appointed as new acting chair.
Although she could not be contacted for comment, she previously told the Times Age she was positive “it will work out”, and the empty school was a temporary situation.
The school had enough funds to remain open for two terms this year and was still receiving funding along with approximately 60 per cent of a part-time relief teacher’s salary.
New Zealand Principals’ Federation national president Whetu Cormick hoped any consultation would be done with sensitivity as any possible school closure was an emotional experience for a community.
“A school is the heartbeat of a rural community and plays an important part in activities in the community.
“I expect the government to handle any network review with great sensitivity.”
He strongly believed the school community should be involved in any decisions but conceded it came down to the minister’s decision.
“Any possible closure is a pre-emptive suggestion as there are other options.
“It could be in the school’s best interest to consider merging with another school.”
The school board will now have to go through a legal process of consulting with the community.
The process will also include the ministry consulting with the boards of schools whose roll might be affected.
The consultation process is expected to take around four weeks with feedback due by end March.