Three stu­dent school con­tin­ues to bat­tle away

Wairarapa News - - FRONT PAGE - JACK BAR­LOW

‘‘It's a sign of the times’’

Last month, Tu­tu­ru­muri School’s bus route was cut off. It’s not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing the school’s roll: three.

Ten years ago there were 25 stu­dents en­rolled at the ru­ral Wairarapa school south of Mart­in­bor­ough.

Now, it’s one of 158 schools around New Zealand with 25 stu­dents or fewer.

The school’s board of trus­tees chair­man Mike Firth said his school wasn’t alone in fac­ing a de­clin­ing roll.

‘‘It’s a sign of the times, in a way,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s the way ru­ral New Zealand is head­ing. Schools are get­ting smaller as fewer peo­ple move in.’’

Things are chang­ing in rugged, iso­lated south Wairarapa.

Firth said tra­di­tional farms had be­gun to de­cline, the land in­stead used for dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, like pro­duc­ing manuka honey: lu­cra­tive but less labour­de­pen­dent, re­sult­ing in fewer stu­dents for the school.

Tu­tu­ru­muri en­joys top-grade fa­cil­i­ties, with a ded­i­cated staff - ac­cord­ing to the school’s web­site, there are four full and part-time staff mem­bers - and strong com­mu­nity sup­port. But that may not be enough.

‘‘The fu­ture’s look­ing pretty bleak, be­cause no-one’s mov­ing into the area,’’ Firth said.

Ru­mours have been cir­cu­lat­ing about the school’s demise, although Firth said there were no cur­rent plans to close.

De­spite the school’s cur­rent op­er­at­ing costs, which the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion es­ti­mates at around $250,000, the min­istry also said there were no plans to close it.

Katrina Casey, the Min­istry’s deputy sec­re­tary sec­tor en­able­ment and sup­port, said small, of­ten ru­ral schools were an im­por­tant part of New Zealand’s school sys­tem.

‘‘There is no roll num­ber at which we would au­to­mat­i­cally con­sider clos­ing a school, although we have done so when a school has no stu­dents and no prospects of grow­ing in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture,’’ she said.

‘‘When a very small school closes, it’s gen­er­ally be­cause a board of trus­tees has vol­un­tar­ily sought to close be­cause they and their school com­mu­nity con­sider that the school is no longer vi­able.’’

Tu­tu­ru­muri isn’t the only school with a small roll in Wairarapa. An­other is Mau­riceville School, a ru­ral school 20 min­utes north of Master­ton with 22 stu­dents.

JACK BAR­LOW/STUFF

Tu­tu­ru­muri School, which has more staff than pupils.

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