The Ministry of Education has not closed the doors to Tuturumuri School — yet.
The future of the small, rural South Wairarapa school looked dire after a consultation process into its viability was launched last month.
The ministry’s sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the first round of consultation — with Tuturumuri School board of trustees, local community and surrounding school boards — had been completed.
“Their feedback is being collated and will inform a decision on the school’s future.”
If the decision was to keep the school open, the process would cease, she said.
“If the decision is to progress potential closure, further consultation with the Tuturumuri School board of trustees will happen before any final decision is made.”
On behalf of the Tuturumuri community, Dan Riddiford and Paul Cutfield addressed South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) at its meeting this week.
They outlined a proposal to build a subdivision that offers affordable sections, in a bid to attract new families to the area and repopulate Tuturumuri School.
The proposal includes creating eight sections on land adjacent to the school, at Stoney Creek, which is owned by Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC).
The sections would be “offered to straightforward family people who want to make a home and provide a secure future for their children” for an estimated price of $30,000.
Mr Cutfield said there was a “huge gap” in the housing market which had to be addressed, and it was about investing in the community.
He said the proposed development would take time and there was the chance the school could be closed in the meantime.
“We understand that’s a potential problem but we’re confident that won’t happen.”
GWRC spokesman Stephen Heath confirmed authority had been given to sell the land in Tuturumuri.
SWDC had given resource consent to subdivide the land into four titles, he said.
GWRC was now working to meet the conditions of the consent, relating to access and repairs to fencing.
Two of the titles would be gifted to the community, Mr Heath said.
One, containing the community hall, would be gifted to the Tuturumuri Community Hall Society, and another containing a shed would be gifted to Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
“Decisions on the sale of the two remaining titles have yet to be made.”
Mr Heath confirmed that GWRC had been approached in relation to developing one of the two remaining titles, but he could not provide details.
South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier told Mr Riddiford and Mr Cutfield that as a past teacher at Pirinoa School, she understood the importance of a school to a small township.
Mrs Napier noted that the proposal was in its very early stages, but said things were achievable with strong community backing.
She has written to the ministry indicating her support for the school remaining open.
Mr Riddiford has also drafted a submission to the minister opposing the closure.
In it, he said the ministry had been “careless with the truth” in saying Tuturumuri was a “student-less school”.
The school actually had four pupils, with two more enrolled to start soon.
Ms Casey said that at the time the minister approved consultation on the school’s future, the school had no students enrolled and hadn’t since term three, 2017.
“Since the consultation was approved, four students have enrolled at the school,” she said.
Mr Riddiford told SWDC that children’s education should be a priority.
However, the ministry was “asleep at the wheel” and had not considered the potential impacts on the community of closing a school that served a very large area.