Education boss' $425,000 golden handshake

KATE CHAPMAN AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 15:54 05/03/2013
Lesley Longstone
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
LESLEY LONGSTONE: Former education boss.

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Education Minister Hekia Parata is not commenting on the more than $425,000 paid to the ministry's former head after she resigned last year.

Parata said it was an employment issue and therefore a matter for the State Services Commission.

"I have acknowledged Ms Longstone's efforts and I wish her well."

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said taxpayers had Parata to thank for the $425,000 bill for Lesley Longstone's early departure.

Longstone's resignation as head of the Ministry of Education was announced in December amid ongoing issues with Novopay and Christchurch schools and a rumoured fractious relationship with Education Minister Hekia Parata.

She moved from the UK to take up the job in November 2011.

Today, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said Longstone received $267,952 before tax in severance pay - the equivalent of six months remuneration.

She also received $157,523 in outstanding holiday pay and a payment in lieu of notice.

"Therefore, total before tax payments to Ms Longstone relating to the ending of her employment as chief executive totalled $425,475.33," Rennie said.

"While notice would usually have been worked out, the desirability of a timely leadership transition led the parties to agree that a payment in lieu of notice was appropriate."

Longstone left on February 8.

Hipkins slammed the payout.

"Lesley Longstone was only in the job as chief executive of the Ministry of Education for 13 months, but she is walking away with a golden handshake of close to half-a-million-dollars. It is outrageous," Hipkins said in a statement.

"The Government claims the relationship between Lesley Longstone and Hekia Parata had broken down. Well, $425,000 would have paid for a hell of a lot of relationship counselling."

He said the real issue was not whether the two could "play nicely together".

"That was just a convenient cover story. In reality, Lesley Longstone took the fall for Hekia Parata's incompetence, and National's unpopular policies. Taxpayers are paying a hefty price, just so that National has someone else to blame for the Government's stuff-ups in education."

He said the payout was a slap in the face for the thousands of school staff waiting to be paid by Novopay.

"It is galling to see so much money wasted on a severance payment when schools are still waiting for proper Government support to compensate them for the costs of the Novopay debacle."

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"Hekia Parata has cost taxpayers $425,000 today. It is just a shame that she is not the one getting the golden handshake," Hipkins said.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei agreed with Hipkins: "Ms Longstone was forced to take the blame for Hekia Parata’s repeated failures in education."

The position will be advertised later this month.

- Stuff

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