One of New Zealand's oldest and most distinguished private schools has been thrown a Government lifeline.
Education Minister Hekia Parata today announced the privately-run Wanganui Collegiate is to become a state-integrated school, ending years of financial uncertainty.
But state education advocates say the $3.8 million taxpayer funded bailout of the college is a sign of what is to come when charter schools are introduced.
The New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) says taxpayers will be left in a similar position when charter schools fail to perform financially.
National secretary Paul Goulter says the Minister has described the process to integrate Wanganui Collegiate as a "difficult and drawn out" one, but has omitted to detail the costs to the taxpayer.
He says public documents and Official Information Act requests show the Government allocated $3 million in the 2012 budget, on top of $800,000 which had already been paid, to keep the school afloat.
"The Government's proposed charter schools are effectively taxpayer-funded private schools. They can be run for profit and will have fixed-term contracts, setting out financial and student achievement targets, with the Government.
"The Government has argued that charter schools' fixed-term contracts will make them more accountable because if they fail they will simply be taken over by the State, or closed down."
Goulter said the true costs of charter schools may never been known as under legislation currently before Parliament, the Government will allow charter schools to be exempt from the Official Information Act.
Parata today said the Government took two years to decide to take over the Wanganui Collegiate.
She said incorporating the school within the state school network will mean reduced fees, because as an integrated school, the only compulsory fees will be attendance dues.
"Integrating the school will ensure it not only continues to be a vibrant part of the Wanganui community, but also that a Collegiate education is available to a wider number of students," she said.
"Wanganui Collegiate is a very successful school. It has one of the highest academic achievements records over a number of many years," Parata said, adding that was a compelling reason to integrate the school into the state system.
Prestigious school fallen on hard times
Wanganui Collegiate has more than 150 years of tradition as a private school.
It was appointed by the Royal Family to house Prince Edward as a tutor 30 years ago and counts former All Black captain David Kirk among its old boys.
But the school has recently fallen on harder times.
"As an independent school, it's had to cover all its cost, not just its teaching costs&its boarding costs," said former headmaster Ian McKinnon.
"It's got to cover the upkeep of all its facilities, it's made it a pretty tricky assignment."
Wanganui Collegiate was established in 1852 at the same time as Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay which was integrated in 1977.
The school has day students as well as boarders and some international students.
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