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Three pupils, four staff

JAKE BELESKI

[email protected]

Tuturumuri School in rural South Wairarapa has access to modern technology including iPads and a heated indoor swimming pool, but soon there may be no pupils left to use them.

The school’s roll has dropped to just three, and there are growing concerns for its future.

The alarming drop in pupils attending the school — at the start of the year there were nine — has even seen the bus route recently cut off.

Chairman of the school’s board of trustees, Mike Firth, said they were running out of ways to attract people back to the isolated rural area.

“We’ve lost quite a few this year alone to different circumstances.

“We had a couple of families, one worked at Greytown and one at Martinborough, and the logistics of having someone home at 3pm each day didn’t work, so they now go to school in town.”

Things have become so dire that the school now has more staff than pupils.

There is a principal, release teacher, office administrator, and teacher aide who is also the school caretaker.

Tuturumuri School opened in 1923 with a roll of six.

It was closed in 1947 due to a lack of pupils, but re-opened a few months later.

Losing the bus route to and from the school was a “massive concern”, Mr Firth said.

“The issue is how do you attract people back in?

“It’s a snowball effect . . . it’s a tough environment down here for farmers, and the forestry and manuka honey industries are taking over.”

He said they were trying everything in their power to get numbers back up, but having such a small roll made it even harder to draw people in.

Mr Firth is adamant the education at Tuturumuri is as good as you would receive anywhere, and said the Ministry of Education had no intention of closing the school at this stage.

“We’re working through everything with the ministry at the moment.

“There’s possibly a farm on the market in the area, and a couple of houses as well which could bring some people in, and we’ve also got a family due back at the end of the year who have been on vacation, so that should bring a couple of kids back into the school.”

South Wairarapa deputy mayor, Brian Jephson, said Tuturumuri was facing a different battle to some other rural schools in the region.

“I live in a rural area and we have Pirinoa School, and the roll there dropped, but it’s come back up again.

“There’s a lot more farms around here with dairy and all the rest, and we have a lot of younger people — unfortunately, Tuturumuri doesn’t have that.”

The council was “very concerned” about the situation in Tuturumuri, but there was no simple way around it, he said.

“All we can do — and we will — is support the district.

“We’ve got a couple of things we’re going to be talking to the district about in a couple of months which will improve their roading and access.”

Unless you were involved in business in the region, it could be a lonely lifestyle for any young person, he said.

“Other than creating some sort of an industry out there to attract young people, what can you do?

“If you’d set up a commune with a whole group of kids you would be alright, but it’s just not that easy.”

The days of big stations with a lot of staff in the area were disappearing, and there was less and less to attract younger people to the region, he said.

“I’ve just been up the East Cape recently and it’s happening there as well — it’s all dying.

“A lot of the villages used to have thriving schools, but they’re just closing down and the villages are looking run down.”

He said the whole landscape had changed and fishing quotas meant more people were choosing to live in towns and travel to rural areas to fish.

“It would be terrible if the school were to close.

“The council will be doing everything we can to help keep it open.”

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