Schools bring in $11m more in donations during 2015

LAURA DOONEY
Last updated 09:55 10/12/2016
SUPPLIED

Wellington mum Widia Soedjanto with children Tiernan, 8, left, and Ciara, 10. She says school bills continue to mount as schools pass on costs to parents.

MARTIN HUNTER/FAIRFAX NZ
Schools gathered more than $124 million in donations in 2015, up $11.8m from the previous year.
KEVIN STENT/ FAIRFAX NZ
St Patrick's Kilbirnie rector Neal Swindells said some things that used to be considered fees were now being lumped in with donations.
FAIRFAX NZ
Labour education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says donations have continued to go up under the National Government.

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The amount of money schools are requesting and receiving in donations has spiked, with parents and communities contributing $11.8 million more in 2015 than the year before. 

The figures, provided by the Ministry of Education, include donations from community groups and companies, as well as parents, but some families are still feeling the pinch.

"It is a financial hit," said Widia Soedjanto, who paid $350 for her two children, Ciara, 10, and Tiernan, 8, at Churton Park School in Wellington this year.

She said she never felt pressured by the school to pay, and wanted to do so.

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"We made an agreement with the school this year to break it down into monthly payments. I certainly wouldn't dream of not paying it, I would not want to disadvantage my children in any way."

The donation came on top of the costs of uniform, stationery, swimming lessons and other items. From year 4 up, there was also the option of bringing a digital device to school, which was another cost for many families.

Emma Frazer, a parent at Rangiora's St Joseph's School, said a shortfall in Government funding meant the school focused on securing community donations.

"There has been significant increase [in community funding].

"I think this year we're looking at $60,000 worth of grants from charities and trusts and it's because we've got a really good system in place," she said.

"I don't think the school fee donation has increased significantly."

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The school's donations, which covered parents and community groups, went from $36,085 in 2014 to $60,228 in 2015.

"There's a definite shortfall in what resources the teachers want to be able effectively teach the children, and what the Government operations grant and funding covers.

"So we're reasonably proactive to try and make up that difference where we can for the benefit of the children," Frazer said.

Mark Potter, principal of Berhampore School, in Wellington, said: "The fact is there has been a large increase in schools having to ask for more ... no school wants to overburden their parent community with requests for more." 

Not only were donations going up, but some schools expected parents to purchase digital devices, and donations could feel like a hidden cost. 

Berhampore raised its requested donation this year, pushing the cost up by about $200 a family if they had more than one child. The increase came after the school had a change in its decile rating in 2014, going from a 4 to a 7, Potter said. 

St Patrick's College Kilbirnie rector Neal Swindells said schools were increasingly being asked to label things that might once have been considered a fee as a donation. Music lessons and school camps were now counted as donations, rather than fees. 

Twenty years ago schools had an activity fee, but now that was considered a donation, he said. 

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the trend had accelerated during National's time in government. 

"I'm not surprised by the figures. Ultimately, if the Government doesn't give the school enough money, they have to go somewhere else ... parents are left picking up the tab." 

The ministry figures, released under the Official Information Act, show last year schools asked for $124.9m in donations. That compared with $113m in 2014, and $110m in 2013. 

Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said spending on state and state-integrated schools had increased 34 per cent between 2008 and 2015, from $1.06 billion to 1.42b. 

Donations were just that – a voluntary payment that could be made in full, in part, or not at all, she said. 

She pointed out that the figures included community and business donations. "It is not correct to say just parents are donating more." 

- Stuff

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