A less than satisfactory official and ministerial response to the public outcry over a School for ‘special needs students’ is precipitating a crisis in East Auckland.
The controversy, if not resolved to the satisfaction of the residents, could even cost the National Party the Pakuranga Constituency in the ensuing election, despite the electorate being a ‘blue chip.’
Trouble began about three weeks ago when the residents of Bucklands Beach objected to an ongoing plan to start ‘Thurston Place College,’ in the complex occupied earlier by ‘Waimokoia School.’
The institution, categorised as a ‘Special Needs School,’ will commence operations next year, under the jurisdiction of Child, Youth & Family Care.
About 100 students will attend Thurston Place College, which is located near Pigeon Mountain Primary, Bucklands Beach Intermediate and Macleans College.
Residents and neighbours of the College have called on the Government to abandon the plan, or at least halt the project until the community and affected schools have been properly consulted.
Education Minister Anne Tolley admitted to the principals and trustees of the three schools that there was a lack of consultation on this issue.
She told a meeting held in the presence of Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson at the Auckland Airport on June 9 that she was now aware of the concerns about student safety and related matters.
Labour MPs Dr Rajen Prasad and Raymond Huo took objection to the Government’s handling of the matter, saying that the consultation process was unsatisfactory.
“It is a slap on the face for frustrated locals,” they said.
Later in Parliament, Ms Tolley admitted that her Ministry had employed less than adequate measures to assess public opinion on the location of the institution.
But she did not indicate if the Project would be abandoned or delayed.
“My concern has to be primarily for the educational needs of this very vulnerable group of young people. They need and deserve the best quality education we can provide, as do all students. Thurston Place College has been established on the site of the former Waimakoia Residential School, which was a very different residential school. As this site was already designated as a school site, there was no requirement to consult on the school’s establishment,” she said.
Dr Prasad did not waste time. He said that despite being unhappy on the way the issue was handled, Ms Tolley is unwilling to do much about it.
“Community members who attended meetings in Pakuranga will not be satisfied with the Minister’s response. This is a shame because the Ministry and parents could have met to clarify their understanding of the purpose of the College and see if there was a useful way of working together to resolve their issues.
“Parents have vowed to take legal steps to stop the college from being built. It is a shame the local community now feels they have no other avenues available to them except taking legal action,” Dr Prasad said.
Mr Huo agreed, saying that Ms Tolley was far from understanding the depth of feelings within the community.
“I am surprised that even though the Minister is unhappy with the level of consultation, she is not prepared to share all the information with local residents so that everyone can arrive at an acceptable solution,” he said.
Dr Prasad said the Ministry should be proactive, contact parents and teacher groups and engage in a meaningful dialogue as a matter of urgency.
“I insist that the Education Ministry and the Establishment Board work closely with the local schools and community as they continue through the process,” he said.