Schools hiring debt collectors

The Dominion Post 29 June 2009

Cash-Strapped schools are flouting Education Ministry advice and turning to debt collectors to chase “voluntary” fees from parents. Principals say the tactic shows that schools are under-funded and want the Government to stop “playing games”. The Dominion Post has obtained documents under the Official Information Act that reveal cases brought to the attention of the education minister, including a school which published a list of parents’ names who had paid the donation. Education Minister Anne Tolley has promised to take a tough approach to schools not following the rules. “I am concerned when I am informed of unacceptable financial practices occurring in our schools. I am not prepared to condone such practices and will instruct ministry officials to address these with schools concerned when they are brought to my attention.”

Baycorp general manager Joe Nel said the agency had about 300 private and state schools on its books, slightly up on last year, with an average debt of $650 for things such as school trips, uniforms and stationery.A number of schools had also asked the agency to collect the donation. “They can be quite sneaky and lump it in with other debt and hope we don’t notice.” By law, every New Zealand child has the right to a free education from age five to 19. But state schools say they cannot survive on government funding and ask parents for an annual donation on top of compulsory fees for everything from art and cooking supplies, homework books, school camps, sports gear and photocopying.