Kohanga reo boss drained finances

A Palmerston North kohanga reo has been forced to dismiss its paid staff after the chair of its board stole more than $21,000 from the organisation.

Te Whanau Mana Kakano Kohanga Reo, based out of Terrace End School, has been running with the help of the whanau that use it after its board of trustees chairwoman Petrice Naha Gillies systematically stole money from its accounts.

Gillies' guilty plea in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday came in the same week as Education Minister Hekia Parata referred allegations of financial impropriety at Te Pataka Ohanga, a subsidiary of the Kohanga Reo National Trust, to the Serious Fraud Office.

The Palmerston North organisation Gillies stole from is also funded by the Kohanga Reo National Trust.

In late 2012 or early 2013, Gillies, 28, was elected chairwoman of the board of trustees.

When the administrator left, she and the head teacher changed the password for their internet banking for security reasons but Gillies later changed the password again, giving herself exclusive access to the kohanga reo's accounts.

From January 31 to November 2013, she made 37 unauthorised internet banking transactions, 36 of those into her own bank account, totalling $21,810.

In one transaction, on March 20 last year, Gillies transferred $5500 into her own account and within that week told the head teacher of the kohanga reo she had bought a car on Trade Me.

Gillies will be sentenced in June, and police prosecutor Stu Oram has asked the money be repaid and the car surrendered as reparation.

Kohanga reo kaiwhakahaere Erena Raneka said yesterday Gillies' plea was "a weight off my mind".

"I'm sure the whanau will be relieved as well, that there is going to be some recompense."

The kohanga reo had been forced to make some hard decisions since Gillies' offending had come to light in November last year, including letting go of four paid staff last month, who were unable to afford to continue working for free.

The childcare centre had a roll of 11 but had lost a couple of families in the uncertainty following Gillies' arrest.

The families that use the centre had rallied around and kept it going with what little funds remained, selling a van that was used to pick up families that used the centre.

"It's just been the whanau that have kept it open," Ms Raneka said. Staff who had been laid off had been told they could return once it was financially stable again, she said.

Manawatu Standard