If schools start running out of money, maybe they should cut out travel to the Cooks

Post-Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff is bleating (here) about school funding slipping behind inflation and he has gone out to bat for schools in poor areas, which don’t have community funds to draw on.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Patrick Walsh similarly says some school boards are struggling with the complexities of running a school, but their biggest problem is lack of money.

Yet the report which triggered those responses shows some school boards are channelling the money they do get into …

Well, overseas trips and “hospitality”, for starters.

And traffic fines.

And shipping clothing and household items overseas.

And a satellite TV subscription.

Alf has been informed of this mis-spending in a report from the
Auditor-General (here).

The report is rich with examples of eyebrow-raising carry-on with public money.

In just one small bit of the report, for example, reference is made to audit reports mentioning matters that are not concerned with the presentation of the financial statements

… but are considered important in the context of public accountability.

In the reporting period, eight audit reports mentioned matters concerned with probity, prudence, or waste.

Probity, prudence and waste?

How will Duff and Walsh explain this.

Let’s look at the examples –

• Ferguson Intermediate (Otara) – The School spent $68,000 on overseas trips, domestic travel and accommodation, and hospitality and gifts. This expenditure contributed to the School’s operating deficit.

In our view, this spending showed a lack of probity on the part of the board. We made a similar comment in the School’s 2009 report.

• John McGlashan College – The board made a contribution of $350,000 to the proprietor towards a new sports centre, without the approval of the Ministry. The amount was repaid in full in May 2012.

• Mairehau School – The board made a contribution of $100,000 to a trust to build a hall on Crown land without a formal agreement with the trust or the Ministry.
In our view, this spending showed a lack of prudence on the part of the board. We understand that the board has now requested that the trust repay the money.

• Marcellin College and Saint Paul’s College (Ponsonby) – The previous proprietor had continued to operate and carry out the responsibilities and obligations under the integration agreement and legislation, but without legal authority.

We understand that these responsibilities were to be transferred to the new proprietors of the Colleges in 2012.

• Sacred Heart College (Auckland) (for the 2010 and 2011 audits)

– The financial statements referred to relationships between the College and related organisations on three matters:

– There were conflicts of interest with the College’s Foundation, which had three members in common with the board, one of whom was the principal who received additional remuneration in his role as chief executive of the Foundation. These members did not exclude themselves from board meetings when it considered matters concerning the Foundation, which is a
breach of the Education Act (clause 8(8) of Schedule 6).

– In 2010, the College modified the distribution of parental donations between itself and the Foundation, which resulted in it having an operating deficit of $500,000.

– The new proprietor had not been operating and the previous proprietor continued to act without authority. We understand that a formal transfer is to take place in 2012.

• Te Kura Kaupapa Māori ō te Kura Kōkiri (for the 2009 audit) – Some of the expenditure appeared to have been personal and inconsistent with the expectations of the Ministry. For example, an overseas trip to the Cook Islands, traffic fines, shipping clothing and household items overseas, tyres and repairs of vehicles not owned by the school, and a satellite TV subscription. In our view, this spending shows a lack of probity on the part of the board.

So there have it – or a little bit of it.

Some school boards have used taxpayers’ money on unauthorised investments and personal expenditure, including traffic fines and satellite TV subscriptions.

The previously cited Radio NZ report (here) tells us audits in 2011 found 33 schools borrowed more than they were legally permitted, 16 made loans to staff, 10 had conflicts of interest and six invested school money without approval.

About 200 schools have debt levels which could affect their ability to pay the bills, and 45 are in serious financial trouble.

And that’s where Duff and Walsh make pleas for the defence –

Teachers’ and principals’ groups say some boards of trustees lack financial experience, but the biggest reason for schools’ money problems is lack of funding.

Post-Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff says funding has slipped behind inflation and schools in poor areas, which don’t have community funds to draw on, are suffering the most.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Patrick Walsh says the report shows some boards struggle with the complexities of running a school, but the biggest problem is lack of money.

“There’s a number of schools that are well governed and well managed, and it’s simply that the resource pie that they have been given … is simply not big enough.”

Not big enough for one or two snouts, at least.

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One Response to If schools start running out of money, maybe they should cut out travel to the Cooks

  1. < Tamati says:

    And what about schools that the Ministry has turned a blind eye to, eg [details withheld by Alf for legal reasons], where the former principal was spending school monies on alcohol, cigarettes, personal groceries and “wages” for family members.
    Tamati

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