28 Oct 2022

Revealed: Principal of school hit with allegations used credit card for personal spending

7:03 am on 28 October 2022
Person caught with their hand in the cookie jar

The principal was challenged about "disappointing" spending on the school's credit card. Photo: RNZ

A school principal accused of failing to address playground sexual incidents and multiple bullying allegations used the school's credit card for personal spending and to collect rewards.

The under fire principal made some personal purchases on the school's credit card and collected reward points for personal use.

The school, which cannot be named for legal reasons, is accused of failing to properly act on complaints of bullying and sexualised behaviour for several years.

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Multiple families and former trustees have told RNZ they believe the problem lies with the school's long-standing principal. They are calling for the principal to change their approach or resign.

RNZ can now reveal the principal used a school credit card for personal purchases and collected personal Airpoints on school purchases made with the card.

The spending was discovered during a finance audit carried out by the board of trustees in late 2018.

The audit report, presented to the board in January 2019, said the principal was the only credit card holder at the school and the last finance audit was done in 2012.

"There has been the odd occasion where the card had been used inadvertently for private purchases, which have been notified and promptly recovered," the report from the auditing trustee said.

"Disappointedly, I discovered the principal has been claiming loyalty scheme points personally for school credit card purchases after implicit denial during our initial conversation on the matter."

School policy stated a credit card could not be used for personal purchases and any rewards collected should be used for the benefit of the school. The school did not belong to any loyalty programmes.

In emails seen by RNZ, the principal "acknowledged the error" and said they would investigate signing the school up to loyalty programmes such as Flybuys or Airpoints.

A year later, a board member reported this had still not been done. When questioned, the principal told them it was not a priority.

The principal did not respond to requests for an interview from RNZ or to questions about credit card use.

In March 2020, the board wrote to the school's auditor asking it to investigate several small, but unexplained purchases made by the principal in December 2019 and January 2020.

These included an "accidental" personal expense of $23.99 - which was eventually repaid to the school - an unexplained $50 meal voucher, and $11.88 on Christmas cards for staff. There were also several small amounts the principal claimed were for dumping school rubbish.

In addition, the board alleged the principal was using school resources for personal use.

The letter to the auditor, seen by RNZ, also claims staff had seen the principal taking "rolls of toilet paper from the school office to their vehicle in the evening". It also claimed staff saw the principal bringing rubbish from home to dump at school. They also allegedly bought a new leaf blower with school funds, when one was not needed, and kept it at home.

RNZ understands the auditor decided not to investigate, owing to the small amounts of money involved.

Tension between the board and the principal culminated in a commissioner being appointed in place of the board.

Despite concerns over academic achievement, as well as bullying allegations, the principal received a glowing appraisal in 2019.

A newly-elected Board of Trustees at the school declined to be interviewed. In a statement, its chair said a review of financial policies and procedures has been completed.

"We are confident that appropriate financial and risk controls are in place. Likewise, the Board is confident that its process for accurately recording meetings is appropriate and fit for purpose."

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