Schools steer clear of fee incentives

Nelson parents who pay their school donation early are getting a discount, but local schools seem to be avoiding incentives such as $100 meal vouchers and threats of public shaming used by other schools around the country.

Despite primary and secondary state education being nominally free, parents contribute more than $100 million a year in fees that cannot be legally enforced.

Principals say it's a struggle to keep schools up with 21st-century expectations with what funding the Government provides.

Total operations grants received by the country's more than 2500 schools in 2012 was $1.2 billion, excluding tax.

A Fairfax survey of more than 25 schools in the lower North Island yielded an overwhelming consensus that Government funding was not enough to provide even the basics, and fell far short of paying for increasingly essential computer technology.

Some of the schools said they offered prize-draws for those who donated early, and planned to create lists of donors to shame those who did not.

That meant "schools are being forced to ask parents for more and more in the way of 'donations' and a lot of parents are struggling to meet these demands", Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said.

Education Ministry figures show that $103m was paid in school donations in 2011, compared with $99m in 2010 and 2009, and $75m in 2008.

"I've seen reports of schools doubling the donations they ask for in recent years," Mr Hipkins said.

"If the Government don't fund them adequately, they just have no choice."

Nelson College for Girls principal Cathy Ewing said her school offered an early payment discount, but she had not even considered offering any other form of incentive.

The donation for a student was $210 if given before May 31, or $245 after that date. Families with more than one student paid $295, she said.

About 80 per cent of families chose to make a donation, a proportion the school was very happy with, she said.

"It allows resources that we wouldn't otherwise have. Government funding covers the basics of keeping the school going, we need donations and other additional fundraising ... for resources that are going to improve learning for students."

Waimea College principal Larry Ching said his school's donation amount was unchanged from previous years, a level the school had worked hard to maintain.

In the past the school had offered incentives such as an early payment discount and a prize draw for those who donated before a certain time, but had found that such moves made no difference to the donation rate.

He was satisfied with the overall rate of donations, estimating that it fell within the 70 to 80 per cent level.

The school would send out reminders to families during the school year, with "tardy" families receiving more frequent messages, he said.

Nelson Intermediate School principal Hugh Gully said his school asked for a $50 donation, as well as a $100 "compulsory fee" which went towards services used by students such as photocopying.

"There's never enough from the ops grant to cover everything we want in a modern school environment."

The school did not enforce the donation or fee too stringently, and Mr Gully said he was happy with the response rate.

"I would not enter into the game of offering incentives to get donations, I think that's obscene. If we're strapped for cash there are other ways of fundraising rather than pleading with the community."

Henley School principal John Armstrong said his school offered a prompt-payment discount, with families who paid before the end of term one paying $10 less than those who did not.

He was satisfied that the school's $80 donation was low compared to other schools, and he aimed for a good strike rate rather than a large amount.

But there would always be those who did not pay, he said.

"It's the same families that pay the donation who do the fundraising."

The Nelson Mail