Breaches 'technicalities'

Tony Hanning
Tony Hanning
The leaders of several southern schools which appeared in an Auditor-general's report for being in financial difficulty, say they are on the list for ''mere technicalities'' rather than anything serious.

George Street Normal School, St Brigid's School (Dunedin), St Mary's School (Dunedin), Southland Girls' High School and Waitaki Boys' High School were among 44 identified nationally as having financial difficulties in 2017 which required letters of support from the Ministry of Education.

Catholic Education Office director Tony Hanning said St Brigid's and St Mary's Schools were on the list for a mere ''technical breach''.

He said when the ministry gave its annual operations grants, schools were expected to spend certain percentages of the funding on certain aspects of the school's operations.

One of the rules was schools had to hold a certain percentage of the funding in a reserve fund for ''a rainy day''.

''But in the case of St Brigid's, they are well supported [financially] by the school's parent community, so they used that money to the best advantage of the children.

''Yes, we breached the rules ... I don't disagree with that. But I can understand why the board did that.

''It's in the area of a technical breach, rather than a matter of major concern. It's a low-risk, technical matter.''

It was a similar situation at St Mary's School, he said.

George Street Normal School board chairwoman Maree McDonald said her school appeared in the report after concluding a significant building project (Te Puna Ako Learning Centre) in 2017, which carried a financial burden.

''The audited accounts are a snapshot of our financial position on December 31, 2017, and the surplus position was quickly restored with the payment of the operational grant on January 1, 2018.

''We are pleased to advise that Te Puna Ako is now completed and the costs met in full.

''Spending in 2018 has been conservative to recognise our 2017 result and we are confident about our financial position moving forward.''

Waitaki Boys' High School commissioner Craig Smith said, like many schools in New Zealand, finance was very tight and schools operated under strict budgetary constraints, always in a very prudent way.

''We work closely with the Ministry of Education on financial matters and have no long-term concerns about the ongoing financial viability of our school. Our priority is to provide students with a well resourced and high quality education, and we are achieving this objective.''

The Southland Girls' High School board of trustees chair was unavailable yesterday.

Earlier this week, RNZ reported problems affecting schools included several lending money to staff, a school that wrote off $26,000 in unsold uniform items, a secondary school that took a loan at 20% interest, and one that did not seek recovery of a $21,000 overpayment to a former staff member.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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