I have colleagues teaching in mouldy classrooms
Feature image: Taranaki regional chair Erin MacDonald (centre) and Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw
PPTA’s Taranaki regional chair Erin MacDonald was devastated for her community when she heard the Green Party would be pouring millions into a privately run school.
State schools in the region have damp and mouldy classrooms and students are being forced to learn in libraries, but it was the private Oakura Green School that was deemed worthy of an $11.7 million cash injection.
The money was part of the government’s bid to boost the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic through ‘shovel-ready projects.’
Erin however, says there are plenty of shovel-ready projects in state schools that should be prioritised.
“I have colleagues all over the region teaching in hallways and mouldy classrooms,” she said.
Meeting with Green Party co-leaders
In her position as Taranaki regional chair Erin, alongside PPTA president Jack Boyle and general secretary Michael Stevenson met with Green Party co-leader James Shaw over Zoom to voice the association’s disappointment.
As a follow up she met James and co-leader Marama Davidson at a Taranaki primary school. She found this a challenging environment as she had to push through performances for the MPs put on by the children to have her voice heard.
“I had to push to get things back to ground zero as it felt like primary voices were the only ones being heard. Individual primary teachers had been sending in postcards and invoices to the Greens so it may have appeared it concerned them more, so I had to remind them I was speaking on behalf of our region and the 20,000 members of our association,” she said.
In the lead-up to the school visit Erin had done a number of radio and newspaper interviews, which she credited her training as regional chair for being able to handle well. “It gave me the confidence to know what to do when they contacted me.”
Environmental responsibility is funding public schools
When criticised for the decision to ignore the Green Party’s own policy against the public funding of private schools, James Shaw claimed it was a “green building project” that would bring jobs to the community.
Taranaki was heavily reliant on oil and gas and looking for projects like this to transition into, he said.
Erin disputed the benefit of one building project when public schools were attempting to address this exact issue with little resources.
“Our community is focussing on a just transition from oil and gas to renewable energy. It affects our students and our community, as many work in that industry. It’s a way bigger picture that we need resources to engage with locally. Schools in Taranaki need more time and resources to teach sustainability and environmental responsibility,” she said.
The fact that an Enviroschool receives $10,000 to support this kaupapa and a private school, with a roll of 50 students at the start of the year, gets $11.7 million has left local teachers and students feeling undervalued, she said.
Not in tune with community’s wishes
The school expansion itself was not in tune with the needs of the Oakura community, Erin said.
“The Oakura council just voted down a subdivision going ahead because they didn’t want more people swamping stretched community resources, yet somehow the Green School needs to be expanded to bring more people here.”
The government needed to have empathy with what that region’s public schools were going through, rather than funding a private school mostly attended by people from outside of the community, she said.
“If those people wanted to stay and set down roots in Taranaki they would support the schools already in existence here.”
Govt needs to rethink the way it makes decisions
Erin hopes the fallout from the Green School decision will highlight the need for the government to listen to communities.
“The Green School extension will happen now. The money was legitimate, and it met the criteria. We can only hope that this has highlighted the need for the Green Party, and government, to become more aware of the issues of teachers and schools before making decisions.”
Even though Labour seemed to escape most of the wrath, they were the party in power, and needed to think about this too, she said.
“The fact the decision was made using a process that gave no consideration to what it would look like in the community means we have to ensure that government is better.”