Uproar over charter school bonuses



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Principals have reacted angrily to claims the Government paid around $60,000 in bonuses to four charter schools despite three of them failing to meet their obligations. ELIZABETH McLEOD reports.

Each of the charter schools established in 2014 – with the exception of Whangaruru which has been closed down for poor performance – were paid bonuses of one per cent of their budgets last year, according to documents released to the Labour Party under the Official Information Act.

Labour’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins said the documents show that Education Minister Hekia Parata was advised of compliance issues at Vanguard Military School, Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa and South Auckland Middle School, but still paid the bonuses. He says furthermore, only two of the schools met their contracted targets.

New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) president Iain Taylor called the revelations “unbelievable”.

“What is so preposterous is that they got all this extra money for succeeding even though they failed!”

However Act Party leader David Seymour, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary for education and responsible for charter schools, said the payments were not bonuses but a part of the schools’ operational funding that had been withheld until their performance reviews. He said not paying it because of “some narrow technical missed targets” wouldn’t have helped the schools’ students.

But Hipkins told Radio New Zealand the government shouldn’t have signed performance-based funding contracts with the schools if it wasn’t going to stick to them.

According to the New Zealand Herald, the documents showed that the schools' achievement targets appeared to have been met, but the Ministry admitted there was limited data and it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions after only one year.

The areas of non-compliance were roll numbers and student engagement. Vanguard Military School didn't meet its minimum roll requirements, but said that was because some students left after achieving NCEA early. Nor did it meet engagement targets - having too many suspensions and expulsions - but said this was due to its hard-line behaviour policy.

South Auckland Middle School also didn't meet engagement targets, but did not explain why, while Terenga Paraoa hadn’t complied with a required well-being survey.

NZEI Te Riu Roa executive member and school principal Lynda Stuart said the payments were “very frustrating when we’re constantly being told to cut corners to save money and told to take short term solutions when we know they will be more costly in the long run”.

She said she would have spent a $20,000 bonus to support more children with digital devices and subsidise outdoor activities.

“We do this because these are beyond the budget of many parents at our school. We try very hard to put our children on a level playing field… but as a school, we struggle to pay for the provision of an equitable learning environment for our students."

Wanganui Intermediate principal Charles Oliver said with $20,000 he could fund an extra teacher aide for 25 hours per week for a year.

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