Another misleading headline

The NZ Herald headline:

Christchurch super school set to be privately funded

Set to be privately funded? Really? So it is going to be a private school is it?

The lead para says:

The Education Ministry’s $41 million proposed year 1-13 super school for Christchurch is set to be funded by the private sector, a document reveals.

Set to be. Note the phrasing again.

The document, obtained by APNZ, outlines advice given to Education Minister Hekia Parata and shows she signed off on five of eight recommendations.

Ms Parata added in her handwriting that four Christchurch eastern suburb schools should close a year later, in December 2016, to allow for “considerations of public-private partnership procurement.”

Wait a second, how did “considerations of” become “set to be”. That is quite misleading.

The privately funded school, known as a public-private partnership (PPP) school, would be the second in New Zealand after the Hobsonville Point primary school opened this year in Auckland.

A PPP is not a privately funded school. It is a state funded school. The difference is that the capital costs of the school are paid for by a private firm, and repaid over time.

Last year the Government announced a multimillion dollar deal for the primary school at Hobsonville Point.

The ministry owns the buildings but had no responsibility for their design, construction, finance or ongoing maintenance.

It is understood the consortium behind the Hobsonville school, Learning Infrastructure Partners, would earn $100,000 over its 25-year contract.

Oh goodness, an average of $4,000 a year!

The Ministry of Education’s deputy secretary for regional operations Katrina Casey said a business case for a public-private partnership would be developed later this year.

She said the business case would analyse the PPP cost against the ministry’s standard procurement model.

“The Ministry is required to assess the requirement for PPP for all capital projects using Treasury guidelines. At this stage the ministry is not aware of any specific interest from the private sector to build the campus.”

The ministry already uses the private sector to build schools, but a PPP extends the responsibility to include design, build, finance and maintenance of the school over a long-term contract of up to 25 years.

“One of the main benefits for a school is that that the board of trustees and school leadership no longer have to worry about maintaining school property as this is the responsibility of the private partner,” Ms Casey said.

“This means the Board can focus on teaching and learning and improving educational outcomes.”

So it is clear that no decision has been made. The Ministry will looks at the costs of PPP vs standard procurement.

There are pros and cons of a PPP. No problems with a story focusing on those. But a headline announcing a school is “set to be privately funded” is misleading.

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