All state schools must stop asking for donations as part of the application process for out-of-zone places, the Ministry of Education says.
But one top Auckland school says it will keep charging them, because it believes people should attend their local schools and those who don't want to should pay the administrative costs associated with that.
An Auditor-General's report into payments for out-of-zone applications found that two Auckland schools were requiring the payment of an administration fee, which was breaking the rules.
But the report was less clear about whether three other schools - Auckland Grammar, Mount Albert Grammar and Epsom Girls' Grammar - that were asking for donations for "administrative purposes" were in the wrong.
The Auditor-General said the ministry needed to improve its guidance to schools, and ensure they were given coherent and consistent advice about payments related to out-of-zone places.
The report said Auckland Grammar asked for $50 donations from both in and out-of-zone applicants to offset the cost of enforcing its enrolment zone. It estimated that to be slightly more than $86,000 a year.
The ministry's deputy secretary, Katrina Casey, has said it would now be providing up-to-date advice to all schools that they must not ask for such donations.
'People should attend their local school'
Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor said his school would consider any new guidelines the ministry put out, but it would be continuing to ask out-of-zone applicants to pay a donation.
"Our belief is that people should attend their local school and if they want to attend a school out of their area, then they should pay the administrative costs associated with processing such applications.
"What that allows us to do is spend our operational budget on teaching and learning for the students enrolled in our school, rather than administrative costs for people who want to come to our school."
Mr O'Connor said they were processing between 200 and 300 out-of-zone applications on an annual basis.
"It is time-consuming and frankly we'd rather our staff be spending time on our current students, rather than those who are outside of our natural catchment area, our Grammar zone, and want to be part of our community."
Mr O'Connor said the school had already removed an enrolment "checklist" that requested a $50 donation for administrative costs as the first item.
A spokesperson for Mount Albert Grammar School said the school would stop asking for a $30 donation for out-of-zone applications.
RNZ has not yet been able to contact Epsom Girls' Grammar to clarify its position.
Meanwhile, Epsom's Kohia Terrace School, which required a $20 "out-of-zone application administration fee" for the 2016 and 2017 school years, said it would accept the Auditor-General's recommendations and stop charging the fee.
The chair of the school's board of trustees, Ruth Wilkie, said issues around whether parents who had paid it would get a refund, and how the school would make up the funding shortfall around the out-of-zone application process, would be discussed at a board meeting tonight.
Cornwall Park District School required a $75 administration fee in 2016, but stopped charging the fee after being contacted by the Ministry. The school also refunded those families who had paid the fee, which the auditor-general commended.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the Ministry of Education needed to get its act together on the issue.
"The fact that the Auditor-General found that the ministry was giving schools inconsistent advice is really concerning. The law is very clear - schools aren't allowed to charge for enrolments," he said.
New Education Minister Nikki Kaye said it was important that schools and parents were aware that enrolment is free in New Zealand.
It was unlawful to ask for fees and the ministry would issue clearer guidance on asking for donations, she said.
The Auditor-General identified five schools, all in Auckland, that asked for payments in relation to out-of-zone places in 2016 and/or 2017.
The report found that there was no connection between between paying the fee or donation and a child's chances of getting an out-of-zone place at one of the schools.
But it said two schools - Kohia Terrace School and Cornwall Park District School - that required the payment of an administration fee were breaking the rules.
Cornwall Park District School has already stopped charging the fee and parents have been refunded.
Kohia Terrace School has said it will also stop charging the fee.
The three schools that asked for a "donation for administrative purposes" were Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland Grammar School and Epsom Girls' Grammar School.
The donations ranged between $20 and $50.
The auditor-general said some of the schools' enrolment material should have been clearer that the donations were voluntary and not required for applications to be processed.
But it also said the Ministry of Education needed to provide schools with more consistent, coherent advice about such donations.
Schools aren't allowed to charge a fee in connection with out-of-zone enrolments, or describe a payment request as a fee, charge or levy.
Where schools do ask for a donation, payment is entirely voluntary and schools can't insist on payment or enforce payment in any way.
They should also not do anything to suggest that being included in the selection process for out-of-zone places or gaining a place is conditional on making a payment.
Further, if a family chooses not to pay, this should not affect their child's chances of gaining an out-of-zone place.
The ministry will now be advising schools that they must not ask for donations for out-of-zone places.