A Taihape farmer who helped obtain an apology from the Ministry of Education for the lost lands says it is little consolation.
Chief ombudsman Peter Boshier told the ministry to apologize for getting rid of a 13-hectare school farm that locals established, when he had promised that the school could support it.
The farm is now on the land bank of the Treaty settlements.
Former Taihape Area School board chair Andy Law said it was nice to have an independent vindication of his complaint, but stopped himself away from action.
“Here’s a scenario: the government steals your home ownership. When confronted, they admit guilt, that they were wrong, and are now very sorry – and promise to do better in the future.
“You ask that the house be returned to you. The government refuses, saying they want to use it to pay off a debt to someone else.
“That’s where we are.”
The entire town contributed 30 years ago to establish the farm, and they would want it back, too, said Law, who led the school’s battle for the farm for several years.
The Education Ministry did not respond to RNZ whether it would consider compensating the school for the million-dollar farm.
The school has a ministry-paid lease to access the farm and receive agricultural lessons “whenever necessary,” said the head of the educational infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, in a statement.
Taihape area school principal Craig Dredge has said there would be no impact from not owning the farm.
The board turned to the ombudsman “simply to achieve the closure of possible barriers in our associations (iwi, community and MOE), as we also recognize that the use and access to land does not require real ownership,” said Dredge. at the beginning of this year.
The ministry said it was working with the school’s agriculture committee to build a new shed and workshop, and stock pens, repair fences and improve water supplies, which the ministry would finance.
In about a month he would know if he could improve his practices, he said.
“Once the school board has had an opportunity to consider our apologies, we look forward to hearing your response and answering your questions.”
Law said it was a foolish use of taxpayer money.
“Why would you build on land that you only have a lease for the next three years?”
Previous principals have said they refrained from investing in the farm once the school lost ownership.
An educational farm had to be set up with care, Law said. They had plans to plant a small garden and introduce forestry.
“Long-term stuff. And you can’t do that when you have a grazing lease.
“The people of the ministry, they are not farmers, they do not understand those things.”
He added that it was “shocking” that Waitangi Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little had referred to the board making assertions “at will or not.”
The minister said in March that the farm “cannot be returned in any way to whoever believes they have the right to claim it.”
The ministry apologized to the Taihape area school board on Monday.
The current school board said it was considering the apology.
The ministry now has a team dedicated to managing the layout of Crown land and buildings, and will look at whether it can further improve its practices, Shannon said.