School decision tests Green principles

I was appalled when James Shaw announced the $11.7 million funding for a private school. The fact that it was a 'Green School" promoting strong environmental credentials made no difference to me. Having worked in education for most of my career, and many years on the executive of NZEI Te Riu Roa, the value of a strong public education system was a fundamental concept.

I spent many years fighting against the destructive, ideological policies of the last National led Government and its wasteful spending on Charter Schools. Any support of private education is an anathema to me.

Clarence Beeby's 1940's vision of a quality education was one where teachers were expected to meet the individual needs of each child in equitably resourced schools ensured New Zealand was a world leader for many decades.

"Every person, whatever the level of his academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has the right, as a citizen, to a free education of a kind for which he is best suited and to the fullest extent of his powers."

A private school that has fees of between $11,000 and $43,000 a year would not fit with Beeby's vision and while it may generate income from foreign students, it has no place in an equitable education system. I can perfectly understand the angst from public schools with serious funding and building issues when they saw this amount of public money being diverted to this private school.

However, I could also see how James could be caught out by the 'shovel ready' project financial bubble he was operating in. As he explained during a Zoom meeting of around 460 Green Party members, the lens he was applying to the thousands of applicants was a carbon neutral, environmental one. This was a construction project that ticked multiple green boxes and was supported by the local council.

James' background is a business and environmental one, while many in the party are primarily driven by social justice issues and environmental activism. I believe strongly that the Green Party is a more effective political force when it has a diverse membership with connections to a range of different communities and sectors. If we want to make progress in addressing climate change and reducing social inequity we need to have influence across the board of New Zealand society.

James is an able communicator, who has operated effectively in the business world from a sustainability perspective. He has worked with some of the largest multinationals as a PwC consultant. His career experiences and perspectives would clearly be quite different from a Green community activist, but his primary goals are largely the same. While I have disagreed with his views and approaches on other occasions, his value to the Green Party is substantial. His ability to get cross party support for the Zero Carbon Bill was essential to ensure it has longevity and impact despite who is in government. It was a great achievement to start a journey that will hopefully lead to substantial action.

The decision to fund the private school was unfortunate, but I was impressed by how James owned his error of judgment within the party and publicly. Obviously I wish it had never happened, especially in the middle of an election campaign, but it ended up as another test of our party's principles and internal processes. This is not the first time since the party has been part of the current government that decisions by our Ministers have caused members to question the price of compromise.

Some members and commentators have predicted dire consequences each time a supposed impasse has occurred and, while a degree of collateral damage occurs each time, the Party manages to work through the issues and move on. Climate change is still occurring with steady relentlessness, our rivers are still contaminated and inequality and poverty continue to infect our society.  No other party is as dedicated or resolute in its determination to address these crises as the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

We are all human, mistakes happen, but it is how we deal with mistakes that truly tests our principles, the resilience of the Party and our fitness to govern. 

Postscript: James' public apology and media questions link


Robert Guyton said…
Could a school of that nature gestate and test programmes that could benefit all state schools which, to be frank, couldn't be described as "green"? Break-throughs in education need special circumstances to occur. A reason for lack of innovation in state schools is lack of funding. This well-funded school could act as a stimulus and an ideas-generator for the other schools in New Zealand.
bsprout said…
That could be an approach to make some good from the decision. However, I am sure the ideas underpinning the private school aren't original, it is often investment funds that seperate private initiatives and public provision. We already have a number of Enviroschools that would jump at the opportunity to do something similar if they had the funds. There could have well well been some public pilot schools that could have been set up to do similar things or a green hub that many schools could tap into.
Jon said…
Dave, as ever, a very well written & argued piece. Ngā mihi!
Janine said…
I always appreciate your measured and honest responses, Dave. This wasn't education funding, but an application for provincial funding put forward by the local body. I can see how it happened and am sad at the nastiness that it has brought out in some people. I wonder what would have been the response if it was a community group wanting to do the same thing? I am part of such a group that is trying to take over the abandoned Northtec cmapus in Rawene and create a community educational facility as a model of sustainability - we applied for PGF money, but our council apparently didn't put it forward for us.
Maybe as a party, we could be actively seeking out such projects and supporting them?
Unknown said…
"I am sure the ideas underpinning the private school aren't original,"
Really? How so?
Where does change in educational practice come from? A "School of Innovative Mathematics" would be the place to look at for ... innovation in mathematics, I'd have thought. Why wouldn't a cutting-edge "green" school be the bed from which the seeds of green education would grow?
shindig said…
Hi Dave

"It is how we deal with mistakes that truly tests our principles"

I couldn't agree with you more. I have voted for the Greens for decades. I have given money, and sometimes quite a decent amount. I'm not a member, but I consider myself a close friend of the Greens.

I saw what happened last week and I was appalled, as were so very many of my friends and cohorts. I posted on facebook about it and everyone I know - all deep green thinkers, some members of the greens, but most, like myself, were not. Everyone shocked. Someone posted that Chloe had answered a question on her facebook page. But I couldn't find any information anywhere else from anyone at the Greens. Not on twitter, facebook, website, nowhere.

OK, right, then I hear the Greens are having an emergency meeting. Fair enough, I said to myself, hopefully they'll be in touch after that. Hopefully someone can explain it to me. Maybe I'll get an email from James.


Dave if you honestly think that James talking to 450 Green Party members and giving a couple of interviews to media is an acceptable way of dealing with this, then you are very much mistaken.

I consider myself a very strong Green supporter. And I am STILL furious at what he did. I am waiting for the Greens to, as you say "deal with mistakes."

Look outside your internal green party membership bubble and consider there's a LOT of people like me out there in the world who are now seriously questioning their vote for the Greens. Nobody has explained this appalling decision, not least James Shaw. Not to me, anyway.

Where's the communications about this? Surely it's not too much for someone like me to expect some kind of communication from the Greens or indeed from James himself,at the very least apologising to his voting public rather than just his own membership.

I don't feel like I"ve had any closure at all. And the way the Greens have handled this, from where I'm sitting, is absolutely appalling.


Bruce Bisset said…
gosh, Cindy, and are you as appalled with Labour and NZFirst - also parties to this decision? who have not been taken to task, have said nothing, and appear perfectly comfortable with it? at least the Greens ran a checks-and-balances process and Shaw accepted it was a poor decision. accountability = great! now move on, and demand the same from the coalition partners. or recognise your bias when you spout it.
shindig said…

I don't give money to Labour, nor NZ First, neither of whom have policies to not fund private schools. I'm not a Green Party member, but I am out there batting for them every day, on social media and elsewhere.

Has Shaw accepted it was a poor decision? I have no idea, because I've not heard a thing from him. Not a tweet, not a facebook post, NADA.

I am a very regular donor to the Green Party and I tend to give a lot more in an election year. I doubt very much that I'll be doing that now. He needs to be accountable to a lot more than a few insiders within the Green Party. Their communications "strategy" of silence isn't working for me, nor is it working for a whole bunch of my friends who are in the same boat.

shindig said…
... Dave's post talks about dealing with mistakes. Those within the Green Party who were all furious may well have been happy and mollified by some kind of internal process that dealt with James's explanation, and accepted his apology. But I've not been privy to that.
bsprout said…
James' apology to members and his acceptance of fault was widely reported in the MSM. He has also met directly with education groups to offer a similar apology and see what can be done in the future.

Perhaps he could make a broader public announcement, but it does seem as though we have a similar situation as Metiria's admission of welfare fraud when she was a solo mum. The level contrition expected is so much greater than from other parties, despite admitting the transgression. To have any Party leader (whether it be Winston, David Seymour or Judith Collins) openly admit that they had got it wrong is considered a rare and unlikely occurrence.

James made a bad call but it wasn't influenced by personal or political gain and in my judgement he will do more good by remaining in his role than resigning. In this regard he is unlikely to be a repeat offender.
bsprout said…
Shindig most of the call with members has been publicly shared:
shindig said…
I expect to hear from the Greens and/or James - he only apologised to the Green Party members, and only through the media. There's been NOTHING on social media, not even the Greens sharing or tweeting the coverage. It's like they're pretending it never happened.

Greens gotta learn that perhaps they need to at least communicate to their supporters. Dave shared the Stuff story with me on social media, which was very nice of him. Shame I didn't get it from the Greens or from James though. I don't think ONE tweet or ONE facebook post would kill them. It feels like they're hiding.
bsprout said…
This appeared in the Stuff article. there may be more work going on that is looking for some further resolutions that can be included in a public message:

"Nevertheless, members were told there would be a wider public apology and “resolution” sometime next week."
Unknown said…
The strength of the right wing is that they unite over what they have in common. The bane of the left wing is that they focus on their disagreements and get their knives out to rip each other to shreds in public.
paul bruce said…
I was very upset over James's decision. However, as a member of the Greens I was invited to the zoom call, where he gave an upfront response lasting an hour, answering questions. Since then, I have read 4 different public apologies which have been widely reported on Newsroom and stuff sites, and copied to social media. I guess you need to be an individual member to get the response directly to your email. I think he has done everything he could to rectify his error, and I have now accepted that and forgiven him. We desperately need a strong Green party in the next Government.
shindig said…
Paul, I agree with you - his main apology this week covered pretty much everything. I remain, however, surprised there's still been no email nor communication with the wider mailing list. You'd think they'd be trying to keep us close, and bring us along with them.

They finally posted something on their facebook account yesterday, but the Greens twitter account appears frozen in the headlights (headlines?): they haven't actually tweeted anything since August 26 - a whole week! I guess they're scared of the reaction?

I am so sad b/c of this mess - honestly, it was entirely avoidable, but now being made so much worse by all their opposition parties piling on, including leaks of emails sent (presumably NZF). The Roy Morgan poll yesterday showed the Greens had surged to 11.5% - not so sure that will be the case in the next poll.

bsprout said…
What is interesting to me is the hypocrisy from Winston and Collins in their criticisms of James. Winston with his support of his Racing buddies being called to question and a multitude of other decisions motivated by self-interest.

Judith Collins takes the moral high ground regarding the funding of a private school while their policy is to reinstate charter schools and the previous National government threw millions at private schools against the advice of the Ministry.

James stuffed up, however, why do many journalists amplify the spin and not call out the spinners for their obvious hypocrisy?
Unknown said…
Worst opening sentence ever, Dave.

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