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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’ (ORS Funding) but the 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 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 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 need to contribute towards.

 It is a disadvantage to everyone, our children with and without additional needs, our staff and our 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 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 (ORS) 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, NZEI and other organisations because really, we all have the same 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 know how to teach children who have physical or additional learning needs because there is no training, and as a board we’re looking for ways our school can use our knowledge to work smarter.

“To be inclusive in a mainstream school is not impossible, we just need everyone to do their part. We can teach other schools to do what we do in the classroom. So, a lot of the things we’re looking at as a board, are ways that we can work collaboratively with other schools across the country to show them how to do, exactly what we do.

“That way it takes a strain off of a school like ours that is being punished for doing our job really well on a dime budget. This is why schools like ours get overloaded,  because people don’t understand how to do these types of things and they don’t know who to ask or where to go.

“I mean the ministry put out a new website, but teachers have enough work as it is. That still won’t give you real life examples of how you run a classroom. If you’ve got two children who are highly autistic and violent in a classroom of 25 kids, we can teach others how to work in a classroom like this, because we do that because we have to do it every day.”

She 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 and if creatively exclude these children, you have money to do whatever you want. It is unequitable and to be honest, a violation of their human rights.

“So a lot of our complaints to the 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 go support staff, we’re going to violate health and safety and if we don’t then we are turning kids away,” says Erika.

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 our child is born.

“And then some of us find out that we actually will not have the life we imagined, and this 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.

“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. Or with a handicap tag and we’re at an event that’s really crowded, 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.  The past two Cherry Blossoms has raised funds for a new junior playground, which was officially opened two weeks ago.  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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