18 Oct 2019

Donation dilemma for mid-decile schools

8:31 am on 18 October 2019

Some schools are facing a tough decision over the government's scheme to abolish donations in decile 1-7 schools.

An empty primary school classroom.

Photo: 123rf

Principals have told RNZ that many decile 5-7 schools will suffer a funding cut if they stop asking for donations and opt into the scheme which pays $150 per student, but they worry how parents will react if they don't opt into the scheme.

The government has stressed that the scheme is optional and that it will not suit all schools, but principals say it is posing an unwelcome dilemma.

One principal, who asked not to be named, said their school currently collected more in donations than it would receive under the government's scheme, but that might change if parents became less willing to pay donations once the scheme came into force.

The principal of decile six Northcote Intermediate, Phil Muir, said his school of 500 students asked for a donation of $200 per child and a further $100 for technology materials.

Mr Muir said not everybody paid, but even so the school would be facing a big funding cut if it opted into the government's scheme next year.

He said that would affect what the school offered in its specialist subjects and a majority of parents had told the school via a survey that they would rather keep paying.

"We would not have been able to fund the extent of the programmes that we currently offer, the resourcing that goes behind that, and our parents really appreciate, our students really appreciate the learning that comes with those specialist programmes so they were adamant that they were happy to pay the difference and the only way we could make that happen was by not accepting the contribution," Mr Muir said.

Mr Muir said the intermediate's board had not yet decided what to do about the donation scheme and it was a tough decision.

"It's not a decision that schools should really have to make. It's another thing to worry about because it involves parents and their livelihood and the money they earn which could go elsewhere. It's complex."

The principal of Wellington's Berhampore Primary School, Mark Potter, said the decile seven school asked parents for a $250 donation, with discounts for families with more than one child at the school.

Mr Potter said not all families paid the donation, but the school also asked for other voluntary contributions during the year and the school's board was calculating whether the government's scheme was worthwhile.

"It's a very tough decision for us," he said.

"We know that it would actually bring in more than we receive through parents' donations at the beginning of the year, but what we're just checking is does it actually cover the other forms of donations that parents make through the year for trips, entry fees to exhibitions things like that."

Mr Potter said not every family could afford to pay a donation.

"It would be hard for us to turn down this opportunity because it would actually remove one cost from parents at the beginning of the year which is a tough time for most families."

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Richard Dykes said the government scheme was clearly good for low-decile schools but figures from a sample of 13 schools showed mid-decile schools and especially those in decile seven would lose a lot more than they gained.

In the worst case, a large decile seven school that opted into the scheme would have to give up about $900,000 in donations in exchange for slightly more than $400,000 from the government's scheme. Another decile seven school would exchange nearly $600,000 in parent contributions for about $300,000 from the scheme.

He said schools had a choice about opting into the scheme, but many principals felt they were in a difficult position.

"The principals are saying we're in a moral bind. We can't go out to our community and say we have turned down government money. But if they accept the donation scheme they know that the net effect is that they will now have less funding for students," he said.

"Yes, they could be blunt and say to the parents, 'look the net effect is we'll lose and therefore we're going to keep you paying it', but parents will start to say 'if you turn down that money, why should we pay instead' so I think it just creates an environment where it just gets harder for schools to do that.

"On the surface it seems entirely voluntary, I think in reality I don't think it's going to be quite as voluntary as they might say."

Mr Dykes said some schools were opting into the scheme even though they would be worse off financially.

"Just yesterday I was talking to two principals and they were saying we are now having to re-jig our curriculum and we're having to re-jig our budget because we're now about a $100,000 to $250,000 out of pocket. That's the net effect of this policy."

Mr Dykes said some schools were likely to stop using workbooks, which had replaced text books in many schools, because they would not be able to ask parents to pay for them. Field trips were also likely to be cut back.

Schools have until 14 November to opt into the scheme.

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