Principals vulnerable to 'frivolous complaints'

BROOKE GARDINER IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2012
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Principals risk having their careers destroyed by "frivolous" complaints, says a principals' spokesman.

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand president Patrick Walsh said there had been a growing number of ministry interventions at schools in recent years.

He said the ministry was too quick to escalate complaints to the point a statutory manager or commissioner was appointed.

"I've seen many principals lose their jobs and careers simply because of frivolous and vexatious complaints. We are having to engage our legal adviser to support our principals in these complaints.

"I know that principals are feeling increasingly vulnerable in their positions."

The Christchurch Girls' High School board of trustees has asked for a limited statutory manager to be put in place.

He believed statutory manager and commissioner roles should be advertised like all other education jobs. "It's quite bizarre, really. We have to be transparent and advertise all roles . . . but they don't apply the same standards."

Some of those appointed were arriving at schools to resolve complex issues with no knowledge of the education sector, connections with schools or the local communities, Walsh said.

During the past 10 years schools had become complex businesses employing 50 to 60 staff, dealing with millions of dollars and bound by a raft of legislation.

He also questioned the sense of allowing those appointed to determine how long they would be employed.

"There's potential conflicts of interest. The commissioners get to advocate how long they want to remain in the school . . . if you're being paid quite a substantial amount of money why would you want to go early?"

Ministry-appointed limited statutory manager Peter Macdonald said he was paid $135 an hour for his work at Wakatipu High School.

Walsh said the association was also advocating for a complete review of the Tomorrow's Schools regime, which applied a one-size-fits-all approach to boards of trustees.

"There is an assumption that all boards will have the knowledge and expertise . . . those that don't have the expertise struggle on or have to buy it in."

Christchurch-based senior litigator and Taylor Shaw partner Kathryn Dalziel also questioned why those with limited legal knowledge and skills were being appointed by the ministry and schools to resolve complex legal issues. School boards should be seeking advice on all legal matters from someone qualified to give it, she said.

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As a trustee of the board of Kirkwood Intermediate in Christchurch, she also held concerns about the lack of support offered by the ministry.

"One of the things that is becoming clear to me is boards are feeling unsupported in the area . . . it is a voluntary role and we're not all lawyers and accountants," she said.

Asked whether the ministry was confident school boards were being given enough support in light of recent troubles, acting group manager Marilyn Scott said: "Boards of trustees are required to manage their duties as employer, and are able to access employment advice and support through the New Zealand School Trustees Association."

- The Southland Times

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