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Falling roll forces school closures

Published: 7:06PM Friday December 12, 2003

It is predicted that in the next decade the total school roll will drop by about 76,000 students, and that has already led to school closures and reviews nationwide.

Many communities have been left confused and frustrated by the closures.

Lansdowne School in Masterton will cease to exist at the end of January next year. It will merge with two other local schools to become part of the new Lakeview School.

"I recognise it as being inevitable but that doesn't mean that we have to like it," says principal Richard Williams.

"The Ministry tried to tell us it was a community initiative but in matter of fact it wasn't - the schools involved had good [Education Review Office] reports...there really was no need for them to be merged."

In the next week 33 schools in Opunake, Putaruru, Turangi, Dannevirke, Masterton, Waitaki and Taieri will close their doors, while reviews are underway in the Far North, Taihape, south Taranaki, Wairoa, Upper Hutt, Timaru and Invercargill.

"It seems to me ridiculous to spend a lot of money to...merge two schools to try and get something better than we've got," says Upper Hutt parent Rosie Purchas. "I don't think you can get anything better than we've got."

Many communities have fought school closures every step of the way.

"If commonsense prevails we'll win the battle," Purchas says. "I think if we don't win the battle that will be quite an indictment on the Labour government."

But the government argues the current makeup of NZ schools is not doing the children any favours.

"What we are essentially saying to an area is that the money that you are spending on your grounds and buildings, that you are spending on your painting contractors and others, can actually go into the classrooms for your kids," says Education Minister Trevor Mallard.

Around 300 schools are likely to close in the next 10 to 15 years.