Taranaki schools rein in fees

Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014

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The price of "free" education may be on the rise in New Zealand but Taranaki schools are trying to keep the costs down.

While a top state school in Auckland is asking parents for a $1050 donation when their sons return to school next week, donations at Taranaki's schools start at $100.

According to a Kiwi education funding group, New Zealand's "free" education is costing families tens of thousands of dollars.

But Taranaki principals are battling the increasing costs.

Jenny Gellen, principal of Waitara High School, said keeping fees and donations at a reasonable price helped to ensure all children had access to quality education.

"Would we ask for a $1050 donation here? Absolutely not. It's not going to happen," she said.

The donation amount for Waitara High School is $100 for a student or $150 per family.

After a survey of secondary schools in the district the Taranaki Daily News found the cost of donations in the province ranged from $100 to nearly $400.

Mark Bowden, principal of Spotswood College and chairman of the Taranaki Secondary Schools Principals' Association, said donations generally went straight towards the education of the students.

While other one-off costs occurred for school camps and sports fees, the donations helped everyone, he said.

Spotswood asks for $120 for a single student or $180 for a family.

"We probably get around 60 to 70 per cent of people who pay that, which is good because we would definitely struggle without it."

Parents in Auckland paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to move into the school zone they wanted their children to be in, so paying a $1000 donation was probably not a big deal for them, Mr Bowden said.

"Here we are lucky to have the support of the JR McKenzie Trust and the TSB Community Trust. They make a significant contribution to education."

Mr Bowden said no penalties were imposed if school donations were not paid but the money was an important source of income for any state school.

Jenny Ellis, principal of New Plymouth Girls' High, lambasted recent claims that education in New Zealand was not free.

"I don't understand people who are making a scene about education in New Zealand not being free," she said. "The tuition is free. In a state school people don't pay for the teachers' salaries.

"If that was the case, in a school this size you would be paying millions because we have over 90 teachers."

The school asked for a $220 donation for each student and about 70 per cent of parents paid.

Other fees at the school are set on a user-pays basis, with some subjects, like design technology, incurring fees of about $20 a year to cover materials.

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The highest subject fee at the school is $120, for some senior art classes.

New Plymouth Boys' High School asks for a $200 donation, which was paid by about 80 per cent of families, principal Michael McMenamin said.

The school also has an automatic payment option, which he said was used well.

Martin Chamberlain, principal of Francis Douglas Memorial College, said the school's $373 donation was spent between activities and information technology.

"We do make it clear that it is a donation but we are very fortunate that the contributions come in."

The donation goes towards things such as the annual magazine, student ID cards and the use of the school's minivan.

Attendee dues are paid to the owner of the school buildings and cost parents between $396 to $796 per year, per student, depending on their age.

That money goes directly to the Catholic Education Management Board in Wellington.

"The school doesn't see that money at all," Mr Chamberlain said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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