Tai Wānanga parents “fed up” with go slow Ministry of Education

By Regan Paranihi
A peaceful protest was held outside Tai Wānanga ki Ruakura prizegiving in Hamilton yesterday by a group of concerned parents and grandparents from the school community.  Photo/File. 

The Ministry of Education has identified a number of concerns regarding student wellbeing and financial practice at Tai Wānanga School in Hamilton.  This follows a peaceful protest yesterday by a group of parents and grandparents from the school community who have been calling for the ministry to intervene since July.

Bub Te Kurapa has had many grandchildren walk through the doors of Tai Wānanga ki Ruakura since its inception and this kaupapa is something she says is worth fighting for.

She says parents and families have many concerns regarding the impact on the support for their children and grandchildren. 

Jeanne Kerr, who has a daughter in Year 11, says they are annoyed at the Ministry of Education's lack of action.

"We are fed up and we've requested various meetings with them, the ministry, but nothing has happened and we've just had enough really."

Kerr made a formal complaint to the ministry in July on behalf of the group, raising concerns about the school's governance, operations, leadership and management structure and calling for "urgent intervention". 

"Kaitiaki well-being and taiohi well-being is currently at risk and we have no confidence that the board of trustees and tumuaki are able to offer an objective and unbiased view in finding any solutions that will benefit Tai Wānanga," the complaint says. "We further request a financial audit take place of the Tai Wānanga past and current financial position due to a lack of transparency, and inequitable spending."

For example, as outlined in the formal complaint to the ministry, “Tai Wānanga ki Ruakura have had their sports teams budgets cut because of an overspend at their other site campus in Palmerston North. Tai Wānanga Tū Toa (Palmerston North) has 29 students compared with 114 students at Tai Wānanga ki Ruakura yet $7,500 was spent on sports uniforms at Tai Wānanga Tū Toa. The suspected expenditure on a school of 29 versus a school of 114 students appears proportionately much higher at the smaller school. The board approved Tai Wānanga ki Ruakura campus building a digital technology lab a number of years ago. This has not been progressed and staff have recently been told the Tū Toa campus will be receiving one for their 29 students and this campus will not.”

Further to that, Kerr told Te Ao, "We're worried about the future of our kura with the current leadership, tumuaki and poari in place and we really think that something needs to be done." 

Te Kurapa added that the group want the ministry to establish a commissioner to govern the school and to look at all the problems that involve their children and teachers. 

Kerr says the school board and principal have been uncooperative.

"They've refused on every occasion, they refuse access to all public documents, such as board minutes, financial records, those sorts of things. And also with the tumuaki, we've asked to meet with him, one whānau member asked 12 times and he still refused to meet," she says.

Te Kurapa says there were about five to six times she emailed, called and physically came in to talk but he did not give her an opportunity.

Te Ao reached out to the board of trustees for comment.

In a statement, board co-chair Laurie Hakiwai says:

"We acknowledge there is a disagreement with a small number of whānau involved in the kura. There are employment issues at the core of this dispute and to protect the confidentiality of all involved the board cannot comment further on the matters raised by those protesting at the prizegiving. The Ministry of Education is providing assistance to the board to help restore relationships across the school. The prizegiving was a highly successful event, well supported by whānau, and a great opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the wonderful achievements of our taiohi this year."

Te Ao also approached the Ministry of Education, which said it had received a "number of concerns" regarding Tai Wānanga and had initially referred these to the board to address. However, the ministry says it considered the board's response unsatisfactory and so commissioned two independent reports regarding student wellbeing and financial practice.

Ministry spokesperson Katrina Casey says:

"The report into student wellbeing identified concerns with:

  • The wellbeing of students and staff
  • Student access to the curriculum
  • The actions taken by the board to address the issues raised

The report into financial practice identified:

  • Issues around a payment of less than $1,000 used to purchase sports gear for a school other than Tai Wānanga. The Tumuaki has explained the transaction as a koha. 
  • Issues around financial governance of the wānanga due to financial policies and processes not being implemented and followed as designed. It identified material gaps in policies, which in turn raised questions of interpretation of what is and is not Tai Wānanga related expenditure.
  • A departure from good governance practices in regards to a specific conflict of interest."

The Ministry says, "We are working with [the] board to finalise the appropriate intervention to address these issues.

"In addition, it is clear that there is a significant breakdown in the relationship between the board and the school community and Dr Wayne Ngata will facilitate a hui with the Tai Wānanga whānau, to begin the korero 'kanohi-ki-te-kanohi'." 

Kerr says, "Both reports indicated there are issues and yet nothing has been done."

Te Kurapa agrees saying they need to know the board that there are still problems and we will still fight.