A troubled Maori Catholic school is spending less than one percent of its operating funding on student learning.
Hato Petera College on Auckland’s North Shore is facing closure after its owner, the Catholic Bishop of Auckland, announced a consultation into its future with the support of the Ministry of Education.
It follows a turbulent few years at the school, which now only has one student.
Infighting between the school’s trust and staff, a soured relationship with the church and cases of bullying and violence have stained its reputation.
Founded in 1928, Hato Petero has a rich history with past pupils including Dr Lance O’Sullivan, All Black Walter Little and the artist Ralph Hotere.
A briefing prepared by the ministry for Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis highlighted some of the severe financial pressures facing the school.
Only $1600 of its $200,000 operations grant was being spent on delivering the curriculum.
“By contrast, 81 percent of operations grant is spent on non-teaching personnel. In total, the three office personnel consume 53 percent of operations grant.”
Last year the school had an $80,000 budget deficit, but with its falling roll numbers reducing state funding that had ballooned to $190,000.
On top of this the report said the school was facing a legal bill of $116,000, further details of which were redacted.
The consultation into the school’s future is not the first, with a similar process in 2016 culminating in the closure of its hostel.
With nowhere to house its boarders and the school roll plummeting, the report revealed the board went cap in hand to the ministry.
It presented a proposal asking for $440,000 for temporary hostel buildings at Awataha Marae and to fund boarding allowances for pupils staying at private accommodation.
The ministry refused the request.
Mate Webb, who was board of trustees chair until a commissioner was appointed in February, described the situation as a “blimmin’ mess”.
He understood the legal proceedings involved the church and members of the Hato Petera Trust that had been set up to run the hostel, rather than the school itself.
If the school closed it would be the end of 90 years of Maori history and he hoped it could be saved, with a recent emergency hui leading to 500 expressions of interest for possible enrollments.
Bishop Patrick Dunn was unavailable for comment. School commissioner Lex Hamill and principal John Matthews did not return calls.
Maori boarding schools dwindling
In announcing the Hato Petera consultation, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the role of Maori boarding schools had changed.
With Hato Petera no longer offering lodging, there are four Maori boarding schools remaining in New Zealand; Hukarere College, St Joseph’s Maori Girls’ College and Te Aute College in the Hawke’s Bay and Hato Paora College in Feilding.
The combined roll of the boarding schools fell to its lowest point of 440 in 2012, but since then has slowly risen to 550 last year.
A separate briefing from the ministry noted that in the past 20 years there had been significant shifts and gains made in the schooling system that performs for and with Maori.
“There are now 278 schools and kura that deliver in Maori medium, ranging from students being taught in Maori language to full immersion. This has had an impact on Maori boarding school rolls.”
Dr Mere Skerrett, of Victoria University’s school of education, said there was a range of reasons why the boarding schools had declined.
Many rural Maori were choosing to not send their children away and the church, which had played a significant role in many of the schools, had seen its influence weaken.
From about the 1950s the schools had also changed their curriculum towards “manual trades for men and women as housewives” and they had been slow to adapt.
“A failure to catch up with the rest of society has probably contributed to their demise,” Skerrett said.