CGHS board defends spending $30,000 on advice

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 07:56 04/02/2013

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Christchurch Girls' High School is defending spending almost $30,000 on employment law advice during the sacking and reinstatement of principal Prue Taylor.

Board chairwoman Robyn Burgess said there was no question it had been necessary expenditure.

The board contracted employment law adviser Peter Macdonald in May last year to deal with a relationship breakdown between Taylor and the board. On November 2 last year the board sacked Taylor, citing a relationship plagued by deep-seated and irreconcilable differences.

Taylor, with lawyer Richard Harrison, took the case to the Employment Relations Authority.

The authority ordered Taylor's interim reinstatement after a November 22 hearing, at which it found there was a strong case that Taylor's dismissal was "procedurally and possibly substantively unjustified".

A full hearing was to have been held in February, but the board permanently reinstated Taylor in December.

A confidentiality agreement now prevents either side speaking publicly about aspects of the case.

Information released to The Press under the Official Information Act reveals that between May 23 and December 22 Macdonald was paid $27,416 by the board.

Burgess said the board uses several bank accounts and was not able to say yesterday exactly which account the money came from. However, the board did not regret the expenditure. "We spent a long time trying to resolve issues, this is part of it."

Macdonald said he stood by the advice he gave, but it was not known how many hours he spent working on the case.

"In terms of the intensity of the meetings involved, the fee sounded "about right", he said. "It was a competitive and appropriate market rate."

Macdonald is paid $150 an hour by the Ministry of Education when he is brought in as a statutory manager, to manage schools on behalf of boards of trustees.

Rates for employment and legal advice vary widely, from $150 to $500 an hour depending on the length of the job and the nature of the advice, he said.

Macdonald was appointed by the ministry to resolve senior staff relationship problems at Wakatipu High School in 2011.

The ministry would not disclose how much the Queenstown high school paid for his services, but revealed Wakatipu was reimbursed just under $8600 for Macdonald's travel and accommodation costs.

James Margaritis, who stepped down as board chairman after the event but is still a member, declined to comment on the grounds that he no longer heads the board.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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