Chief Ombudsman’s opinion under the Ombudsmen Act - Taihape Area School
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has published a final opinion recommending an apology from the Ministry of Education over its handling of the disposal of a farm Taihape Area School used for agricultural education.
A local landowner gifted Taihape College (the College) a farm, with the intention that it would become a teaching farm administered by the College. Following certain educational reforms in 2004, the College and Taihape School were disestablished and the Taihape Area School (the Area School) established in their place.
The Ministry began the process to dispose of the College’s property. However, in 2014, the Area School approached the Ministry of Education to discuss the farm’s ownership. As it became apparent that the Area School could not prove that it owned the farm, the Ministry disposed of the farm through Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). The farm was then landbanked with Office of Treaty Settlements (OTS) to be reserved for treaty settlement claims.
Subsequently, the Taihape Area School’s Board of Trustees (the Board) raised further concerns with the Ministry about its decision to dispose of the farm. The Area School contended that it was still using it for educational purposes. The Ministry reviewed the matter and indicated to the Board that, if it had known that the Area School was still using the farm, it would not have disposed of it. The Ministry entered into a temporary leasing arrangement to facilitate the Area School’s ongoing use of the farm.
The Board made a complaint to me about the matter.
On the basis of the available information, I formed the opinion that the Ministry’s:
- decision to dispose of the farm; and
- omission to reassign the farm prior to disposal;
were unreasonable in all the circumstances.
I also recommended that the Ministry:
- apologise to the Area School community and the Board regarding the Ministry’s handling of this matter;
- alter its practices to ensure that this situation does not happen again; and
- commit to working with the Board on options to ensure it had ongoing access to land to support its agricultural programmes.
 The ownership of school property is usually vested in the Ministry. However in this case, the College owned the farm land. When the College was later disestablished, the land went into the Ministry’s ownership.