Salisbury School supporters fight closure

Salisbury School supporters fight closure

The Nelson community has rallied around Salisbury School as it fights to stay open.

For the second time in four years, the Government is consulting on closing Salisbury - a residential school for high-needs girls.

Salisbury School supporters turned up on Sunday, prepared for round two and fighting for survival.

"It shouldn't be happening. It is happening and so we're embattled. Simple as that," John Kane, the school board's chair, said.

The school fended off government attempts to shut it down in 2013 by going to the High Court. It is not ruling out court action again.

Education Minister Hekia Parata cites a drop in student numbers as reason to close the school. She says fewer parents are choosing residential care instead opting to keep their children at home through the Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS).

Since 2010 the school's roll has fallen from 77 to 10, which the minister says has pushed the cost per student up to nearly $215,000.

That's compared to the cost of the Intensive Wraparound Service - a cost of $27,000 per student.

But Labour MP Damien O'Connor says it's the Government's doing.

"The restrictions around access by the ministry, instructed by the minister, means it's almost impossible for parents to get their girls into this school," he said.

But the Minister says there has been no "managing down" on enrolments by the Ministry. 

"The change to the way applications are processed was made in 2013 on the basis of clinical advice."

She says the school's roll had almost halved even before the IWS was introduced. 

Local MP Nick Smith cut a lonely figure in the crowd as he justified the Government's position.

"There are those who would say as a local member of Parliament, why would you front a meeting when what you say will be about popular as a pork chop in a synagogue?" he said.

"You cannot justify $2 million a year, this prime, 10-hectare site and 34 staff for nine pupils."

Dr Smith was challenged by former students, including Molly McDonnell.

"Leave it open and keep more girls coming. We deserve this," she said.

Molly has intellectual disabilities and autism, and left the school six years ago.

"I felt like I was here as a person I wanted to be."

Her dad, Gerard, says she wouldn't be the person she is today without her time at Salibury.

The school board will have a final face-to-face with Ms Parata tomorrow to make its case for staying open, and will know the minister's decision this month.