School costs become a burden

Nelson parents are struggling to meet the cost of school uniforms and fees.

The Nelson Budget Service has been inundated with so many funding requests that some deserving families are being denied financial assistance, budget adviser Judith Cowley says.

"There is a lot of demand, and only so much money to go around. No-one has received their full amount.

"It's very expensive. Full uniforms for Nelson [College for] Girls cost about $700.

"And all year round there are extra costs. I had a client whose daughter needed to buy her own ski goggles and ski gear for a school camp. And these are things, situations, where people can't even afford to eat."

State schooling in New Zealand was not free, Nelson Budget Service manager Marina Gosnell said.

"Lots of parents must pay for uniforms, shoes, fees, and other extracurricular expenses that arise during the year. And people feel obliged to pay the voluntary payments and donations, even though they don't have to."

Rutherford Rotary's Ian Catto, who processes grant applications for the budget service, said there had been fewer applicants than two years ago, but some people weren't getting all the money they needed.

He thought this might be because the national McKenzie Youth Education Fund, which provides money for grants administered by the Rotary club, had investments that were not performing as well as in previous years.

Rutherford Rotary had made about 100 grants for education expenses, Mr Catto said.

"The money isn't huge, but I guess it's a big help - it's about $200 per child."

Ms Cowley said there had been delays issuing grants because Rutherford Rotary had been concerned that the money would be spent on things other than uniforms.

"That's a problem we are trying to work through," Mr Catto said. He said that a voucher system had been considered.

"In reality, the kids still need clothes on their backs," Ms Cowley said. "Whether they spend that [McKenzie Fund] money on the uniform, or other money, it's still a cost."

Nelson's Fifeshire Foundation provided about 40 grants each month, "for families and individuals in hardship and/or domestic crisis", trustee Mary Lafrentz said.

"Many families in our communities are low-waged and find budgeting for their children's requirements a real juggling act."

Five grants this month related specifically to school uniform costs, she said.

Grants were usually only awarded to regular Nelson Budget Service clients, because other people didn't know the service existed, Mrs Gosnell said.

Single mother Heidi Brodie, of Mapua, said the support she had received from the Nelson Budget Service had been amazing - "a lot better than when I lived in Dunedin".

"I wasn't eating properly, was really poor, and they helped me out of that - it was really bad.

"I get depression. It was like, should I jump off a bridge?"

She recently received a Youth Education Fund grant through the Nelson Budget Service and Rutherford Rotary, which she used to buy a Nayland College uniform for her 13-year-old, Olivia.

She said it cost about $500 for the uniform, which students must have going into year 9.

"I couldn't have paid that without the $232 from the McKenzie.

"It's enough to have her go to school on the first day and feel proud of herself - that's really important at her age."

HOW MUCH? School uniform costs: Clifton Terrace Primary School: Polo shirt, polarfleece, 2x shorts, shoes approx $150 Broadgreen Intermediate: Sports T, 2x polo, sweatshirt, fleece, 2x shorts, shoes approx $280 Nayland College: 2x polo/blouse, 2x shorts/1x skirt, socks, jersey, shoes approx $300

The Nelson Mail