More funds needed for education buildings
The value of consents for education buildings in Northland was up 30 per cent last year, though one leader says there is never enough money for our schools.
Education buildings valued at $13.9 million were awarded consent last year, an increase from $10.7m in 2014.
Dargaville High School’s executive officer Martine Topia said schools still struggled to keep up with construction and repair costs, despite the increase in consented work.
She said the Ministry of Education funding was insufficient. “It’s never enough. Everybody’s in the same boat,” Ms Topia said.
Schools are allocated funding for buildings from the Ministry of Education on a five-yearly basis. It must be used to upgrade, modernise or replace existing buildings. The ministry expects classrooms to be upgraded as “flexible learning spaces” — open plan learning areas of varying sizes to “encourage and support many different types of learning”. Schools must pay for these upgrades using their five-year agreement.
Ms Topia said some issues were not likely to be fixed for at least 10 years due to stretched budgets. However, she understood the ministry had funding difficulties and she sympathised with other publicly funded services which were also feeling the pinch.
In a written response, Ministry of Education spokesperson Jerome Sheppard said this year the ministry expected to spend twice as much on school property as it did three years ago. He said the Ministry asks schools to prioritise property funding to make sure buildings are healthy and safe.
“If a school had health and safety issues, we would help them use their funding to address those. If they didn’t have sufficient funds, we would step in immediately. The safety of the students and staff is our first concern,” he said.
Mr Sheppard said the Government had allocated $300 million over the next six years to assist schools with “complex property issues” which could not be fixed from their regular budget.
The value of consents for education buildings rose 58 per cent in 2015, up $404 million to $1.1 billion. Tertiary buildings accounted for more than half of the increase. A $15m contract to rebuild “appalling” classrooms at Northland College was announced last year, though this project was not included in last year’s consent total.