Schools are pushing donation boundaries

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 25/08/2014

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A Wellington school caught potentially misleading parents over voluntary school donations is one of many "pushing the boundaries" to top up funding, the School Trustees Association says.

Hutt Intermediate School collects more than $60,000 a year in donations. When its enrolment form was questioned by The Dominion Post , the acting principal conceded it could be "misleading".

The form asked parents to declare they would "undertake to pay such sums levied by the board of trustees by the date requested", which included school donations, technology fees, camps and education outside the classroom.

The wording was not in line with the Ministry of Education's expectations that schools should make it clear to parents donations were voluntary.

"We will meet with the school and ask them to change the wording accordingly," ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said.

The decile 8 state school has 626 students and asks for a $200 donation per student.

About 50 per cent paid, and parents were never pressured to pay, acting principal Michael Gendall said.

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said schools asked for donations with the best intentions, but would sometimes "push the boundaries" to top up funding.

"In the past, donations used to be about nice-to-haves, but now there's a number of areas including technology where there is a certain level of expectation that has to be paid for."

She said best practice was to advertise donations as voluntary, but she expected there were "many and varied ways being used for topping up school funding".

Casey said the ministry was "not aware of schools stating that donations are compulsory because they need the money in order to cover the day-to-day costs of running a school".

But Gendall said that, without tens of thousands of dollars in donations, school programmes would have to change.

"I'd say the kids would be worse off, but I also know there's a lot of high-quality teachers who are very good at making resources go a long way."

School donations have long been a contentious issue between parents who cannot afford them and schools who say they need them to make ends meet.

While schools cannot enforce the payments, over the years they have resorted to withholding yearbooks or school ball privileges from students whose parents have not paid.

Labour has promised to scrap school donations and replace them with an annual government grant of $100 per student for schools who stop asking parents for donations.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he could understand the situation Hutt Intermediate was in. "The operations grant as it is doesn't provide enough to cover the curriculum and schools are feeling under pressure."

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Education Minister Hekia Parata dismissed suggestions the curriculum was not covered, saying operational funding had increased by more than $600 million in the past six years.

"If a school community doesn't agree a donation should be requested, then parents can make their voices heard," she said.

"If they decide they do want it, it's unreasonable for other taxpayers to foot the additional costs."

- The Dominion Post

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