Strained schools likely to get cash

JODY O'CALLAGHAN AND TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2013
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The Government is poised to pump extra cash into schools struggling with the Novopay debacle.

Steven Joyce, the minister responsible for Novopay, is expected to announce the compensation package today to coincide with the release of a technical review of the teacher pay system, which has been shambolic since Talent2 took over six months ago.

The size of the package and amounts paid to individual schools will not be known until today. Schools say they are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the cost could run into the millions.

The Government has already shelled out $5 million for a remediation fund but none of that has gone to schools.

It went on extra staff at the Ministry of Education to handle work associated with Novopay, including a temporary contact centre employing 16 staff, case managers, payroll experts, 12 temporary staff to assist school payroll staff and seven staff for a temporary phone line, among other costs.

Today's additional package is likely to take the form of cash paid directly to schools to assist with payroll work.

Principals' Federation president Philip Harding said colleagues "at the end of their ropes" were already talking about possible reactions if compensation was not offered.

Mr Joyce had been given many suggestions to ease the pain of Novopay, such as extending administration deadlines, improving communication, installing regional Novopay representatives and delivering a public apology.

So far none had been taken on board. Cash was his last chance.

"It has to recognise that we're not fools and we deserve to be treated with respect."

Novopay is supposed to provide payroll services for 2457 schools and 90,000 people every fortnight, but has been dogged by disaster stories of teachers and other school staff being underpaid or overpaid, or not paid at all.

In a further major blunder, it emerged last week some staff who had been overpaid were being threatened with debt collectors.

Some schools have had to dip into their reserves to cover payroll shortfalls but today's package is unrelated to that.

The technical review, meanwhile, will look at the issues surrounding the payroll failure but a decision on whether to break the contract with Talent2 is not expected today.

"It's not D-Day," one Government source said.

New Zealand Educational Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said there would be "a lot of very, very upset school staff" if there was not a credible financial package offered. "We strongly believe they should because, simply put, schools have a desperate need for additional resources to cope with the complete mess that's Novopay."

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But Mr Goulter wanted to see the money come from Talent2's financial penalties, for example, rather than from other areas of the education budget.

Schools would breathe a sigh of relief if there was a "magic wand", but that was unlikely.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts was also calling for financial support to help schools hire additional staff to give stressed staff much-needed days off.

"What's happening is that schools, taxpayers, have been picking up the tab both financially and in the energy spent, for a private company's failure.

"It's kind of bigger than just us as teachers. This is where New Zealand community has to at some point say, no you can't do this, our schools are too important."

The latest glitch to hit schools incorrectly terminates jobs at the end of the term on April 21, including staff who are permanent employees. The Ministry of Education was in the process of notifying the schools affected, with an outline of what action is required.

The ministerial inquiry into Novopay is due to be completed before the end of May.

- Fairfax Media

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