To support the children or to save money?

Out of the 400 pupils that attend Greerton Village School, 140 of them are on the school’s learning support registry.

Twenty-five of them have ‘high needs’, but the ORS funding these students receive doesn’t always match the support that is required.

Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the school, Erika Harvey says the decile two school continues to struggle with funding as it caters to meet the needs of these students, as well as offering the other 376 students the learning opportunities and experiences to which they are entitled.

The lack of money is not only affecting those with disabilities, but it is affecting the entire school.

Erika says the funding model needs to change to meet the needs of individual schools, it should never be a one size fits all model where funding is concerned.

Schools are expected to contribute funding to each child who require support, in most schools where the numbers of ORS funded students are lower, this might work, at Greerton Village School it doesn’t due to the very high numbers.

“We’re having to split classrooms. So now we have some classrooms that have like six very, very high need children. So you can imagine for the other children who don’t have those needs, it could be quite distracting. But we’re forced to do that because we have no money.”

Erika says it is a disadvantage to everyone, their children with and without additional needs, staff and the school community.  

“This poor funding model has no winners.”

She says Greerton Village School has the highest number of special needs children at a mainstream primary school in the North Island and possibly the entire country.

“So when you have a school like ours, it means that we’re operating at about $124,000 deficit purely from just following the law.”

She says the main issue is that the education funding model promotes exclusion, not inclusion as set out in the Education Act.

As well as seeing what the school is going through from a BOT point of view, Erika also experiences this from a parents point of view, as her daughter Piper is autistic.

“Piper attended a Montessori preschool full time so I could work full time. We went through the application process hoping Piper qualified for Ongoing Resource Scheme funding for primary school. This is extremely difficult to receive with only one per cent of students being approved.

“If you are one of the lucky ones – which Piper was – congratulations your child is considered to be one of the ‘most severe’ in terms of needs, and received a teacher assistant at school. If you are not in the lucky one per cent it will be extremely difficult to get adequate help or assistance for your child at school.

“When we started to look at our local primary schools, we were told we’d need to pick our daughter up at about lunch time. I couldn’t understand how Piper wouldn’t have someone full time. She wasn’t even toilet trained, she couldn’t speak and would take off all her clothes when she became overwhelmed. This didn’t make any sense. The school said she would be fine and families do it all the time.

“As a parent you feel like you only have two choices at this stage: One: worry about your child’s health and safety and mental wellbeing if you don’t pick her up at lunch, so you can work.

“Two: instead of being a burden to the school or worry, you’re forced to leave your full time job for lunchtime pick up. There is a third choice – this is where parents don’t pick up their children and those children wind up being stood down for behaviour – also resulting in being forced to leave your full time job.

“When this happened to me, I never knew we were being ‘excluded’ from our local school. I thought they were looking out for us. They said they couldn’t afford to cover her full time and I’d feel horrible making them feel like they had to. I had enough guilt feeling like her additional needs were somehow my fault, so it made sense that I should have to do this on my own.

“We heard about Greerton Village School while I was sobbing to someone. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to make our mortgage payments after I left my full time job. We were stuck in the house we purchased, which at the time was considered a premium price and was now considered entry level pricing, so selling didn’t make sense.

“Greerton Village School had to zone their school due to the immense financial pressure they were under. Piper was one of their last children to enrol out of zone,” says Erika.

Last year, Erika started to become more involved at the school and says only then did she realise that she was creatively excluded from their local school and started to understand the funding model.

“Greerton Village School didn’t have some magic funding pot of gold that other schools did. They were just giving all children the same shot at an education. As much as my daughter learns from the students, they learn from her that everyone is different but special in their own way.”

She says more than 70 per cent of the schools budget goes to supporting children with additional learning needs and the improvements and changes in these children are drastic. She says it show the power of inclusion.

“The board last year decided to go public about their funding woes to raise awareness about our situation and to educate others on the pressures schools are facing, but don’t openly talk about

“I am lobbying the government as well as working alongside members of IHC and NZEI and other organisations because really, we all have the some complaint. Schools don’t have the resources they need and this makes it hard for our teachers and support staff. Everyone is just trying to do the best they can with the little bit they have.

“Many schools don’t even know how to teach children who have physical or additional learning needs because there is no training. As a board we’re looking as a board we’re looking for ways our school can use our knowledge to work smarter.”

Erika says a good start would be achieving an actual incentivised education funding model where schools aren’t punished for doing their job.

“Basically how it works at the moment is if you are really good at taking care of and treating all children equally, you’re punished because your financial budget is screwed.

“So a lot of our complaints is as a ministry is, you’re forcing us to break either the law of inclusion or the health and safety act. You tell me which one you want us to break because if we are forced to let support staff go, we’re going to violate health and safety and if we don’t then we are turning kids away.”

She says this hasn’t only affected her and Piper, it has affected other parents as well.

“I got a phone call a couple of months ago about from a husband whose wife tried to kill herself because she has two autistic children and couldn’t handle it anymore. She had to leave her job because the kids couldn’t go to school because they were stood down. Nobody could help them, no other school would take them and she didn’t know what more she could do.

“They were going to lose their home. They couldn’t pay their bills and she tried to kill herself because she had life insurance, just so her family wouldn’t lose their home. This is the cause and effect of an education model that is broken.

“The biggest thing that gets to me and it makes me cry every single time, is that every mother in history enters motherhood the same way. We picture all the amazing things we’re going to do once out child is born.

“And then some of us find out that we actually will not have the life we imagined and that isn’t something anyone can prepare you for.

“It’s like we all have these amazing dreams of what it’s like to be a parent. Nobody says that ‘oh actually you may not ever be able to go on a plane with your kid and to be honest you can’t go to grocery stores’.

“We get looked at often when Piper is having a hard time. People seem to forget that not all disabilities are physical when they’re making judgements,” says Erika.

“It’s hard to go into public because when you do, if your child has an issue, people look at you like you have a freak of a child and you’re a crappy parent. They don’t realise that maybe there’s something else wrong. People wonder why we’ve put it up since we don’t have a wheelchair but when Piper gets overwhelmed she’ll take off her clothes and we needed to be in close proximity to grab her and run.

“I wish people would remember that not all disabilities are physical.”

One of the main ways the school raises funds is by putting on the Cherry Blossom Festival each year.

This year the school is raising funds for “The Arts” and are looking to purchase new costumes for Kapa Haka and Pasifika, as well as updating our music equipment for our three school bands.  

This year the festival is being held on September 21, from 10am to 2pm.

More than 100 street cars will be on display, there will be stalls, games and more for the whole family to enjoy and to raise funds for the Greerton Village School.

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