New Plymouth principal writes scathing letter to Jacinda Ardern over 'elitist' funding for private school

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

A New Plymouth school principal has written a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying a private school receiving millions of dollars in funding is "unacceptable, elitist, and completely inequitable".

Green School New Zealand, a privately-owned school which sits between New Plymouth and Oakura, has been given funding by the Green Party from the Government's $3 billion pool that's set aside for infrastructure in the COVID-19 recovery fund. This is despite the Green Party's policy of phasing out public funding for private schools.

The school was set up by Rachel and Michael Perrett who made their wealth selling HRV systems, and its fees are up to $43,000 a year. It's getting an $11.7 million Government boost to help it expand.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has taken the blame over the issue after he signed off the 'shovel-ready' project in his capacity as Associate Finance Minister. Shaw said it was given the green light because it ticked all the boxes, including offering quick jobs in a region that needs them as part of its transition away from fossil fuels.

"This one is a green building project in Taranaki which is a region that we are trying to think of a future beyond oil and gas," Shaw told Newshub.

But Kealy Warren, acting Principal of New Plymouth's Marfell School, wrote a scathing letter to Ardern where she said she couldn't fathom how Green School was given the funding when there are other schools that "are screaming out for money to fix leaky classrooms".

"This is totally unacceptable, elitist, and completely inequitable. It is a clear statement that you value the rich while actively keeping the low socio-economic schools in their place at the bottom of the heap," the letter said.

"This action makes the rich richer and says loud and clear that you have little regard for the state school system. You have given to those who already have so much and yet again left us hanging."

In her letter, which National MP Nicola Willis shared on Facebook, Warren invites the Prime Minister to Marfell School where she says she'll show her what facilities and supplies. She said any upgrades and support for students at the decile two school "comes from me applying for grants and extra funding". 

Warren claims that the $11.7 million Green School received would've given each state school in New Plymouth $500,000 each.

"Imagine what we could have done for our children with that? We could have provided a court that is not a slippery hazard, we could have up-to-date technology that works, we could have a roof that does not leak, we could have modern classes with modern furniture, we could resource our play based learning programme adequately, we could have a special needs unit adequately furnished and resourced."

Warren said there isn't any equity in giving Green School millions of dollars in funding and Marfell School $73,000 for upgrades.

"You come and watch a teacher struggle with six [autism spectrum disorder] children, plus the rest of the class and limited support. You come and have a lesson in a classroom having to share outdated devices between two or three children. You come and see our reality and then tell us that you think the Green School needs $11.7 million. It makes me feel sick."

Shaw said he took responsibility for the decision to give Green School the funding, and when asked whether he would do it again, he said he "probably would have taken a second look".

Education Minister Chris Hipkins left it to Shaw to defend his decision.

"Ultimately, that was something the Green Party advocated quite strongly for and so it was one of their wins, if you like, out of the shovel-ready projects area," Hipkins said on Thursday.

"It's not necessarily a project that I would've prioritised."

National's education spokesperson Nicola Willis blasted the decision.

"You give me $11.7 million and I will find you a queue of schools who will create construction jobs if they're given money to do a building tomorrow," she said.

Hipkins has been contacted for comment regarding Warren's letter.