The $11.7 million of funding that the Government approved for the private Green School in Taranaki will now be a 100 per cent loan but how did the school that promotes itself as unique, holistic and community-focused get thrust into the political spotlight?
Treasury confirmed to Sunday that a decision was made last week that the funding is now a $11.7 million loan from the Government.
When it opened at the beginning of this year, the 55-student private school had been fully funded by entrepreneurial couple and Taranaki locals, Michael and Rachel Perrett.
Ten years ago they sold their very successful HRV ventilation business, packed up their lives and went for an “education adventure” to Green School Bali.
The pair say what they encountered when they got there was “just magical”.
“To bring what was in Bali to the rest of the world…was it possible? Could we capture the magic?” Michael recalls thinking.
And in a first for Aotearoa, and a first for the Perretts, they began the journey to engage in “something exeptional”.
They had no prior experience in education but they recruited experience, CEO Chris Edwards.
“There are many international schools. I ran the biggest one in the world as it happened - before I came here so I had 5,500 students at an international school in Singapore,” Edwards told Sunday.
“Our vision for the school is that all our children enjoy a joyous education,” he said.
From primary through to high school, the kids won't leave with NCEA, with Edwards saying it’s not the “anxiety-based testing that you see in most schools”.
Half of the 55 students are international, the other 50 per cent are Kiwis and people from around New Zealand are packing up, moving to the region, just to send their kids to the school.
Following Covid and a government economic stimulus package, the Green School became $11.7 million richer when its application got the green light from four senior Government ministers.
Any application needed to be signed off by Grant Robertson, Shane Jones, David Parker and James Shaw. However, the backlash was immediate and mostly from schools.
“This local couple, principle owners of the Green School, are very successful businesspeople and for them to be given a taxpayer’s government gift when they could have gone to the market for a commercial loan, just seemed astonishing," Martin Chamberlain, chairperson of the Taranaki Secondary School Principals Association, said.
"People are still reeling at that.”
The backlash also hit Parliament.
“I announced as Associate Finance Minister that the Government would support a shovel ready construction project at the Green School in Taranaki, the decision to support this project was an error of judgement for which I apologise, if I was making the same decision again I would not support the project,” James Shaw said at the time.
The Perretts say they didn’t know at the time that Green Party policy was no public spending on private schools.
Sunday approached New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom who advocated for the Green School in their application for comment but he declined.
He has previously stated though that he believes the school will bring significant positive economic benefits to the area, he also accepts that many schools in Taranaki are struggling with long term systemic underfunding.
Three weeks before the election the Green Party called a private meeting with local principals where Shaw apologised, Shaw says they “were angry” but appreciated the gesture.