ERA awards $150,000 to sacked Rangiora High School principal Peggy Burrows

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF.CO.NZ

Peggy Burrows was sacked unjustly for a "significant breach of privacy", as Rangiora High School principal and has won after fighting the allegations in court.

After a two-year saga, sacked Rangiora High School principal Peggy Burrows will receive up to $150,000 for being wrongfully dismissed.

The Employment Relations Authority  found Burrows, the school's principal for 13 years, was not proved to have leaked confidential board of trustees documents before her dismissal.

However, they ruled against her reinstatement as principal, unconvinced a positive working relationship could be restored.

Burrows was sacked unjustly for a "significant breach of privacy", as Rangiora High School principal and has won after ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Burrows was sacked unjustly for a "significant breach of privacy", as Rangiora High School principal and has won after fighting the allegations in court.

Speaking from her country home near Amberley, Burrows, 57, said the 10 months and $116,000 she spent fighting a decision made by the commissioner of Rangiora High School, Bev Moore, to fire her, was worth it to clear her name.

"It was very humiliating in a community like this. It was difficult to even have the courage to go into town to do my groceries.

"I am tired and I am happy and I am free," added Burrows.

Sacked Rangiora High School principal Peggy Burrows says she is "tired, happy and free" after a two-year battle to clear ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Sacked Rangiora High School principal Peggy Burrows says she is "tired, happy and free" after a two-year battle to clear her name has ended.

When Rangiora High's board asked for specialist help from the Ministry of Education in 2014 it was to help manage their finances and farmland assets, partially sold in 2007 for more than $7 million, according to former board member Warren Newbury. 

However, Bev Moore was commissioned and compiled a damning report on Burrows' relationship with three board members who later resigned ahead of the board election that year.

In the report  she quoted governance trainer Al Fone's perception of a "complete breakdown of trust" within a "climate of significant angst and frustration".

Burrows in her home near Amberley, where boxes containing the contents of her school office still sit in the hallway ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON//FAIRFAX

Burrows in her home near Amberley, where boxes containing the contents of her school office still sit in the hallway untouched for more than a year, because it brings her personal pain.

Moore also found  trustees felt "bullied" by Burrows' allegedly overbearing behaviour.

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While Burrows admits clashing with those individuals over their proposals to purchase new farmland, she said they were fraught with conflicts of interest that, if she had agreed, would have cost her her job.

"What they are asking you to believe about me is that I am so powerful and so strong that I was a law unto myself and could manipulate lawyers, teachers and businesspeople. Nothing in a school happens in isolation."

On February 26, 2015, the ministry dismissed the board and appointed Moore in its place, a day after her report was finalised. Many former trustees are yet to read it.

"At the time I was startled but there's nothing you can do," said Dave Turnbull,  who was chair of the board  for only three months.

"The board struck me as competent as any board I have been involved with since 1989."

Burrows similarly felt the school, with $14m in assets, climbing student achievement and glowing ERO reviews, was "poised for excellence".

In April, 2015, TVNZ reporter Michael Parkin received 11 confidential board documents and an anonymous letter, which he believed were from someone "clearly close to [Burrows]," the ERA judgement notes.

Two months later Burrows was suspended for a "significant breach of privacy" pending investigation and a maelstrom of rumours emerged; primarily that she'd spent school money on unnecessary international travel.

"If I had done anything that was misappropriation or misconduct it would have been resolved in two minutes, not two years," she said.

"I lost my professional home, I lost my professional family and I lost 1800 children who I love dearly in the one day."

Burrows was fired in March last yearafter Moore spent $150,000 ministry and school money to carry out an investigation.

The ERA found Moore failed to question key staff, or find the source of the leak. It also found Moore reached conclusions that were inconsistent with her investigator's report.  However, the ERA did not uphold Burrows' claim Moore's process amounted to bullying.

Moore, still the school's commissioner, did not respond to requests for comment and other senior staff at Rangiora High declined to talk.

Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary David Wales defended Moore's work and rejected Burrows' belief the ministry appointed a commissioner in "blatant self interest".

"This was always about getting me out so the Ministry could control the school and its $14m in financial assets. I think there were people who had an agenda to remove the principal and they were effective, sadly," Burrows said.

Burrows is unsure whether to appeal for her reinstatement, but said she would remain in the education sector.

 - Stuff

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