Head teachers rally against dismissals

Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012

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The employment expert who controversially fired former Wakatipu High School principal Lyn Cooper last year has been criticised for his handling of the dismissal and that of two other principals.

Auckland lawyer Richard Harrison believed there were "concerning" similarities between the cases of Ms Cooper, Aranui High School principal Graeme Pollock who was was fired in 2005 and that of Christchurch Girls High School principal Prue Taylor who was dismissed last month before being reinstated following a damning Employment Relations Authority report.

Employment advocate Peter Macdonald was Education Ministry- appointed statutory manager at the time of Ms Cooper and Mr Pollock's dismissals. Both successfully appealed their dismissals. Mr Pollock received a settlement payout and took up a principal's position overseas. Ms Cooper was reinstated before her case reached an ERA hearing. She was given a public apology from the board for the "unfortunate" dismissal, resigned four weeks later and was hired as the deputy principal at Invercargill's Verdon College, a role she had held prior to being appointed at Wakatipu High.

Mr Harrison is now acting for Mrs Taylor, who was dismissed by the school board and reinstated last month after the report found her dismissal was "procedurally, and possibly substantively unjustified".

Ms Cooper said when Mrs Taylor's dismissal hit the headlines last month, it had felt like deja vu.

The terminology Mr Macdonald had used to fire both women was "identical" and a year on Ms Cooper still did not know why she had been sacked.

All three lodged grievances that resulted in a major backdown by the schools and in each case Mr Macdonald played a key role for the schools.

Mr Harrison said there were "concerning" similarities between the cases and believed "no evidence of misconduct" or behaviour justifying dismissal existed in any of the cases.

The major process failures in Mrs Taylor's dismissal, highlighted by the ERA report, also featured in both Ms Cooper and Mr Pollock's cases, he said.

"My concern is in all three cases there has been a misuse of process; an approach I don't think should be followed by someone who is government-appointed," Mr Harrison said.

In his view, the approach that had been taken in the cases "is a way to basically not follow process and just humiliate the principal to the point where it just drives them out".

In each case, the principal had been invited to a meeting with the board and were told their employer "no longer has trust or confidence in you and if you don't go voluntarily, you will get dismissed".

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Mr Macdonald denied he had acted improperly and said the only similarities between the cases was that by the time he was appointed, the schools had had "damning" ERO reports.

He rejected the accusation he had made any mistakes in his approach to all three cases.

"I believe the processes in every instance . . . have been fair and reasonable. I stand by my decisions in every instance."

- The Southland Times

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