Thursday, December 9

Taihape school rejects Ministry of Education apology for farm debacle

]A Taihape school rejected the Ministry of Education’s apology for taking away its students’ educational farm, accusing it of incompetence and allowing the farm facilities to degrade to a “dangerous” state.

Taihape school farm.

Taihape school farm.
Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

The ministry broke its promise several years ago that the school would keep the 13-hectare farm that the entire town helped establish in the 1990s.

The Ombudsman criticized him for this, ordered the ministry to do better and apologized.

But the Taihape Area School Board doesn’t accept any of that.

“We … do not accept the apology offered,” he responded in a letter demanding a written guarantee that the ministry will buy him another similar piece of land, or give him money, in compensation.

“The ambiguous [apology] The letter just seems to be full of empty bureaucratic rhetoric, “said Board Chair Shari Chase and Director Craig Dredge. wrote to the ministry.

The ministry had the school jump through hoops for years to try to maintain the farm, but eventually took it away anyway.

The farm should have been a multi-million dollar school asset, but has instead ended up in the government-owned Treaty land bank. The bureaucrats told the Minister of Education in 2017 that they did not know that the students were using the farm, which was not true.

The school said the ministry has placed it in a position “where it is seen as failing our community; failing to protect a farm that was given as a gift – and failing to protect something that was also purchased through extensive community fundraising “.

A local farmer originally sold the land cheaply in 1989 to the now-defunct Taihape College.

Another farmer, Laurie Abernethy, remembers how the city came together to raise money and donate livestock and labor.

“A lot of people put in a lot of effort, personal effort,” he said.

He was “quite upset” by what has happened since then.

When the university closed, the ministry did everything possible to prevent the community from putting the farm in trust, to pass it on to the new school in the area.

The local school said goodwill and relations within the city became strained: “Community members, local leaders and iwi have placed themselves between the school and the Ministry of Education.”

Taihape school farm.

Taihape school farm.
Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Community Board President Ann Abernethy used to run the Taihape College farm.

“There was a feeling that once again the community came together and bought something for Taihape … and then all of a sudden it seems like it has gotten out of hand,” he said.

The school’s response ended any division, he said.

“I am absolutely delighted to see … the community working together to oppose the ministry’s decision.”

The director and the chairman of the board were not available for an interview. Previously, they seemed conciliatory, so their hard letter is a U-turn.

The fate of the farm was due “to the incompetence of the systems of a body intended to protect the interests of our school,” they wrote to the ministry.

Even ministerial intervention over the years had failed; Trevor Mallard, when he was Minister of Education, promised that the school would get the farm.

“This promise must be recognized and kept, and the Taihape community deserves a more public forum to explore why this did not happen,” the school said.

You can still use the little farm for free for farming lessons under a lease until 2027.

Some improvements are being made, such as the old wool shed that doubles as a classroom, paid for by the ministry.

This work was due “only to the inadequacy and dangerous nature of the current facilities” that needed immediate attention, Dredge and Chase wrote.

Letting him degrade was “another failure of the ministry.”

The ministry declined to comment on the farm’s security. I was considering the school’s response.

The ministry tried to say the school didn’t tell him the students were still using the farm, but the Ombudsman rejected it.

“We try to do the right thing,” he said in his apology letter.

The school called this a “finger pointing and blaming” exercise.

The ministry said it forgot its commitments to the school due to a “loss of institutional knowledge, poor communications or improper handling of records.”

“I also acknowledge the past leaders of your school who have put a lot of time and energy into advocating for the school on this issue over the past several years,” wrote the ministry’s property delivery chief Scott Evans.

Rangitikei District Councilor for the Taihape area, Tracey Hiroa, said the school’s response “makes sense to me.”

The school said it now wants a written guarantee, plan and financing for a farm, either the existing one or a replacement one, to protect education, health and safety, and animal welfare, or full financial compensation.

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