Auckland school spent $13,000 to farewell principal, other schools wrongly claimed wage subsidy - report

Two schools wrongly claimed money under the COVID-19 wage subsidy, a new audit has found.

Another school spent thousands of dollars on a departing principal, including a party costing $8695.

The Office of the Auditor-General released its school audit results for the 2020 year on Monday. While most found themselves in an improved financial situation thanks to extra funding from the Ministry of Education, the impact across the board was varied.

Some lost revenue due to the impact the border closure had on international student enrolment, and others because the donations scheme introduced in 2020 - giving $150 per student to schools from deciles 1-7 that didn't ask for money from parents - didn't quite match what schools had raised before, except for those in decile 1. 

The board of Auckland’s Papatoetoe North School were singled out for gifting "several hardware items" costing $4,310 to a principal as a parting gift, and spending just shy of $8700 on a "farewell event". Another teacher had $2200 spent on their leaving party, and another two staff members received $1000 cash gifts. 

Manurewa West School paid its principal "various well-being payments, and revitalisation and refreshment grants" in 2017 and 2018, the audit found - none of it approved by the ministry. The principal also got the school to pay for his spouse to accompany him to an education conference in Singapore, which he had to pay back out of his own pocket. 

The Office of the Auditor-General noted state schools weren't allowed to claim the wage subsidy without an exception from the ministry - and the ministry didn't give any. But that didn't stop two from getting payouts - Ponsonby Primary School received $49,207, saying it was unable to hold its Taste of Ponsonby event - but the audit found this didn't amount to the required 30 percent drop in revenue for the year, and the school board repaid the money.

Hawke's Bay's Lindisfarne College received $123,703, which also wasn't the required 30 percent drop. 

A quarter of schools that have fee-paying international students "increased their total revenue from international students in 2020 compared to 2019", while the impact on the rest "was not as significant as we expected", partly offset by $20 million in funding from the ministry, announced in July 2020

"We expected to identify significantly more schools in financial difficulty because of the effects of COVID-19. This was not the case," the report said.

"Although our auditors identified only 17 schools that we consider to be in financial difficulty and another 44 schools that had the potential to get into financial difficulty, our analysis showed that many schools continue to spend large amounts of their funding on staff. Without the same level of COVID-19 support funding as in 2020, there is a risk that more schools get into financial difficulty in 2021."