Governors step in at Columba

The Columba College board of governors has stepped into a controversy at the school, in an unexpected attempt to resolve allegations of bullying between the principal and staff.

The Otago Daily Times reported in October last year that principal Elizabeth Wilson had been under investigation by the Post Primary Teachers' Association for alleged ''severe and persistent'' bullying of staff over an extended period.

The college's board of trustees has remained adamant Miss Wilson had the ''unqualified support'' of the school's board in her management of the college, and also had the support of the parent community.

Board of trustees chairwoman Dr Margot Skinner has repeatedly said the board is not prepared to discuss in the media matters relating to staffing, and would continue to attempt to work constructively with all parties.

However, the school's board of governors has now stepped in, in a bid to resolve the issues.

It was an unusual step, PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker said.

The Ministry of Education website says responsibility for resolving allegations of bullying in an integrated school, whether it be between pupils or staff, traditionally lay with the school's board of trustees.

Among other things, the board of trustees is responsible for overseeing the management of curriculum, staff, finances and administration, as well as ensuring the school provides a safe environment and quality education.

An integrated school's board of governors acts on behalf of the school's proprietor(s) and is responsible for the school's land and buildings.

Mr Bunker said he had had an offer from the school's board of governors to act as intermediaries between Miss Wilson and her staff.

''The board of trustees is supposed to do it, but there seems to be a lack of trust between staff and the board.''

Mr Bunker said the board of governors hoped to use church contacts to act as mediators in the dispute.

''We've agreed to step back for six [to] eight weeks and see what happens.

''After that, we may be back at square one, but we're hopeful that sensible people talking to each other will lead to a sensible resolution.''

Board of governors chairman Tony Sycamore was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Mr Bunker said if the issue could not be resolved, other options would have to be explored.

Options included recommending the Ministry of Education appoint a commissioner to take over the duties of the Columba College board of trustees, but Mr Bunker said that was at the ''very extreme'' end of options.

A more likely option was to engage an Occupational Health and Safety officer to investigate the allegations of bullying, he said.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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