New decile rankings hit school budgets

00:37, Nov 09 2014
Phil Holstein
HOLY HECK: Christchurch’s Riccarton High School principal Phil Holstein is worried his school could be a big loser.

A quarter of a million pupils will be hit by school funding cuts to be announced this week, which principals say will force them to turn to sausage sizzles and "voluntary" fees to resource their classrooms.

But in a Peter-paying-Paul exercise, the money will be shifted to other schools. A third of the nation's 2500 schools will be better off, a third will have to tighten their belts, and the remainder will be unaffected. The Government is expected to offer some short-term transitional funding to help schools whose budgets are significantly cut.

Fairfax Media has worked through area unit data from Statistics NZ to tip some winners and losers.

The funding change is the result of new decile rankings - the mechanism by which the Government assesses the socio-economic status of a school's pupils.

It is based on data from last year's Census, in which parents and their neighbours disclosed whether they were on benefits, how much they earned, what qualifications and occupations they had, and how crowded their homes were.

Schools dropping down towards decile 1 get more of the $130 million funding pool to help them teach deprived pupils; those climbing up toward decile 10 get less taxpayer money and may also lose the support of charitable organisations like KidsCan and Duffy's Books in Schools, which target needy children in low-decile schools.

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As a side-effect, decile ratings can also impact on house prices.

Riccarton High School in Christchurch, with 950 pupils, could climb from decile 7 to 9, our numbers suggest - which would mean a 60 per cent drop in funding from $68,000 to $27,483.

Decile funding is only a small part of the $13.3 billion government education budget but any loss has to be filled by the parents.

Riccarton principal Phil Holstein's first reaction was "holy heck".

"It might be the fact that the earthquake, the rebuild and the recovery has impacted on the parents here, many of whom are small business operators."

Two of his major contributing primary schools are in New Zealand's lowest socio-economic areas; two other contributing schools are wealthy decile 9s.

"It is that balance I love as a school," he said. "I have always felt we are a true community school. We have a whole cross-section, the diversity of backgrounds is what makes the school good and strong."

He agreed with the idea that schools with richer parents might be able to contribute more.

One of the criticisms of decile funding is how arbitrary and unpredictable the critical funding calculation can be.

Fairfax Media's analysis predicts Auckland's Waterview Primary, roll 155, could rise one rank from decile 2 to 3. But Principal Brett Skeets fears it could rise as high as decile 5, with an ensuing loss of $60,000 a year funding.

Skeets says the move also makes the school ineligible for charitable handouts including food, shoes, clothing, and stationery from charity KidsCan.

"When you lose any sort of funding it is going to have an impact on the school. It is the funding but all those support things are huge as well."

Change would leave them unable to support some families.

"That might make it a little harder to get the kids to school."

He said he would formally appeal any increased ranking.

Decile ratings are created with five indicators measuring the socio-economic status of a school's area, Ministry of Education student achievement head Graham Stoop says.

Factors include household income, the per cent of parents in low-skilled occupations, crowded houses, parents' education qualifications and the number of income support beneficiaries, all collected in the census.

At West Auckland's Kelston Girls High School, our numbers suggest the school of 597 may drop from decile 3 to 2, winning an 82 per cent increase in decile funding - but principal Linda Fox is preparing for a worst-case scenario. She feared their ranking might rise, reflecting increased incomes and property prices in the neighbourhood.

"Our budget, which we are working on at the moment, will be really difficult to write so it breaks even," she said. "It is quite ridiculous. Although the property prices have gone up, most of the community who come here are living in rented accommodation."

Fox said the decile funding model was a blunt instrument that failed to provide for the needs of her students. "As the years have gone by it has shown increasingly that it is inadequate. Sure the demographic may be changing but it is a very slow process. Right here and now, the students that we are teaching need as much support as possible," she said.

Sunday Star Times