The Post

Parents scramble to find schools

- Jessica Long

A community has been left ‘‘shocked’’ after the sudden decision to close a decile 10 school in Porirua.

Samuel Marsden Collegiate in Whitby, north of Wellington, told parents on Monday night that it would shut its doors at the end of the school year, leaving 170 pupils looking for a place to learn and about 20 teachers without jobs.

Falling rolls and financial strain were blamed for the closure of the school, where yearly fees are about $16,000.

The next 12 hours were filled with parents’ rushed submission­s to enter their children in other schools. However, some have been told that rolls are closed for the year.

The school has sent out a fourpage list of schools for boys as well as girls who did not wish to continue studies at the college’s Karori single-sex campus, where they have been offered places.

As a result, parents at a meeting hosted by the school yesterday indicated that they intended to take legal action.

Frank Simmons, a father of a year 9 student, said the announceme­nt had left his family dumbfounde­d. In the three years his son had been at the school, it had never mentioned any financial struggles.

The handling of the announceme­nt was ‘‘very poor’’. He said parents should have been invited to consult on the matter, offer solutions and be told about the closure in person.

Simmons said his son, who was autistic, flourished at the school after struggling at one with larger class sizes and overall student numbers. He would find it hard to find another school that suited his needs.

‘‘It’s going to be very hard for us. My wife is devastated. She couldn’t sleep.

‘‘I’m not going to give up on this. I want to find out why it’s happened and what to do to salvage this.’’

It was hoped another school would stump up the cash to keep the campus going.

Principal Narelle Umbers said the board had made the decision on June 15 to close, and it would work to help students into school placements.

Umbers blamed the financial strain on falling roll numbers over the last four years. Consulting parents on options to stay open ‘‘would have been misleading’’.

Parents were told three years ago the school had struggled with falling roll numbers, she said. ‘‘It’s difficult to be financiall­y viable when a school is small.’’

The future of the school’s capital assets – worth $3.8 million, according to Porirua City Council’s website – had not yet been determined but Umbers denied that the nearby Whitby Lakes Retirement Village played any part.

She rejected criticisms that the school had poorly managed its announceme­nt, saying social media had undercut its thorough plans to inform stakeholde­rs via email.

Porirua City councillor Anita Baker said it was a ‘‘tragedy’’ for the community’s students and school staff members.

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