How scrapping donations could leave schools financially worse-off

The Principal of an Auckland high school fears the Government's plan to scrap school donations for decile 1-7 schools would force him to cancel camps and trips. 

Michael Williams, Principal of Pakuranga College, told a select committee on Wednesday that while the Government's intentions were "good", he's concerned about the "unintended consequences". 

The Education (School Donations) Amendment Bill will "create an even bigger divide between schools that can offer more experiences" and the schools that can't, Williams explained. 

Budget 2019 allocated $75 million a year for the proposed law whereby all decile 1-7 state and state-integrated schools would be eligible for $150 per student if the school agreed to stop requesting school donations from parents.

Williams explained that he couldn't accept the Government's offer because he would lose money in that he would no longer be able to request donations from parents for school camps.

If he accepted the $150 per student, Williams said that would amount to about $300,000. But that doesn't compare to the roughly $600,000 the school currently gets from both the general donation from parents at the start of the year and donations for camps and trips.

"When I add up all the camps and trips, it's about $300,000 we get from those donations. We also get about $300,000 from the general donation - $600,000. This Bill will give me $300,000 to replace the $600,000."

Pakuranga College Principal Michael Williams.
Pakuranga College Principal Michael Williams. Photo credit: Newshub

Katrina Casey, from the Ministry of Education, told Newshub the ministry's guidelines will be "updated to reflect any and all final decisions made" on the Bill before Parliament.

She said under the current system, schools cannot charge fees for activities that relate to the curriculum. If a camp is part of a school's curriculum, then a school cannot charge a fee but may request a donation.

That could all change under the proposed law. As it stands, it says school boards would be given the "discretionary grants" subject to the condition that "a board does not seek or receive any solicited voluntary payments from parents".

Williams said without the ability to ask parents for donations for school camps and trips, he would be forced to "stop lots of activities". 

Members of the Education and Workforce Select Committee, including Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and National MP Nikki Kaye.
Members of the Education and Workforce Select Committee, including Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and National MP Nikki Kaye.

"I'll have to explain to the community and hope that they will still pay the donations," he told the select committee members, including National's Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye.

Kaye pointed to concerns around the proposed law creating a divide between schools, explaining how it's unfair that only decile 1-7 schools would be eligible for the donation.

Paul Goulter, national secretary for NZEI - the primary teachers' union - said for too many New Zealanders, the imposition of voluntary payments has become an "intolerable financial burden and an embarrassment for parents".

But he agreed with Kaye to a degree, saying: "This blanket idea that decile 8 or 9 or 10 schools somehow have rich parents right across the board is offensive" to his members.

Williams said in his experience, parents do not seek out schools because of which one has the cheapest donation, but because of the learning experiences on offer.

"We will see a bigger divide created in society between the schools that can offer rich, wonderful learning experiences, and those that watch the video about it.

"The parents want those experiences. To deny them those experiences, is I think, almost criminal."