Parent uproar over school donation tags

06:06, Jan 31 2014
Whangaparaoa Primary School donation tags
TAG, YOU'RE IT: The contentious Whangaparaoa Primary School donation tags.

The issuing of tags to families who paid school donations has enraged parents at a primary school in north Auckland.

Whangaparaoa Primary School, a decile 9 school with more than 700 students, gave out 2014 "donation paid" tags after parents made $155 donations for their children. Many parents believed the tags were for their children's schoolbags.

Schools ask for donations from parents but cannot legally force them to pay.

The move has caused an uproar in the Hibiscus Coast community and been criticised on the community Facebook page.

Facebook members fear potential elitism and bullying they say could result from some children not having tags.

A post about the tags on the community Facebook page received more than 250 comments overnight.

A photo was also posted on the page by Whangaparaoa resident Daryl Gove and 300 people responded within two hours. He removed the photo after being inundated with messages.

"People were very passionate against the tags when they saw the picture," Gove said.

Tristan Dean, chairman of the school board, sent an urgent message to parents and the community.

"The tags are not being given to children, they are being given to parents who paid their donation as a thank you to them for supporting the school," Dean said.

"They were not printed specifically as 'bag tags' for children. Although this is obviously one possible way for them to be used, it's entirely up to the parent.

"It was the board's collective decision to provide the tags and it was a decision that was made after a lot of thought and discussion."

There had never been any intention to bully anyone or create different "classes" of students based on whose parents had paid a donation.

"Although I can understand why some parents see this as a concern," Dean said.

The school recognised some families couldn't afford to pay a donation.

"It was always the intention that if any such families felt that they wanted a tag for any reason, they could confidentially contact anyone at the school and receive one, no questions asked," Dean said.

"It is the significant number of families that choose not to pay the donation when they can afford to that we are really trying to encourage and we've tried all sorts of softer methods historically with very limited success."

The board is reviewing its use of the tags.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said her ministry had spoken to the principal about the tags.

‘‘We are very clear about this as a government, we fund schools and then their board can decide whether they want to ask for additional donations and that is up to that school and that community. They are certainly not compulsory and no parent is compelled to pay the donation.

‘‘[Whangaparaoa primary school has] advised us that they will be reviewing it because it was not their intention to cause these kinds of difficulties.’’

School donations have been controversial throughout the country with boards of trustees trying to find ways of encouraging the donations often needed to plug gaps that Ministry of Education funding don't meet.

Other schools in Auckland have tried banning students from non-paying families from extra-curricular activities such as the school ball, or withholding school yearbooks from those who hadn't paid.

"It's all well and good thinking that a donation shouldn't be required as the Government should pay," Dean said.

"But the simple fact is that we don't get sufficient government funding to provide the level of schooling that the community expects us to provide.

"If more families paid their donations it would make a significant difference to the school and the opportunities we can provide the children."