24 Mar 2016

School Trustees left red-faced over submission

6:18 am on 24 March 2016

The School Trustees Association is apologising profusely to schools and to politicians for a submission it made to a select committee opposing extending paid parental leave for new parents.

It is now seeking to withdraw the submission that it says was inaccurate and just plain wrong.

President of the School Trustees Association Lorraine Kerr wrote to school boards apologising unreservedly for the submission the association made to politicians on their behalf.

Teacher and student at Linwood Primary School, Christchurch.

The School Trustees Association is seeking to withdraw its submission on paid parental leave. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Two weeks ago submissions were being heard on Labour MP Sue Moroney's member's bill that would extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks - from the 18 weeks new parents are entitled to from next month.

The School Trustees Association's policy advisor Mary Hall told MPs Ms Moroney's bill exceeded international labour guidelines and would create problems for schools.

"Increasing leave entitlements for a school has financial implications and it also has educational implications especially for small rural remote schools where getting an adequately qualified reliever to fill in for a teacher who may take leave is not necessarily straightforward."

MPs pointed out at the time that teachers were already entitled to 52 weeks leave and the only thing that would change if the bill was passed was the portion of that leave the government was paying for.

However, Ms Hall also told MPs the education budget would take a hit.

"If the entitlement increases the drain is on education collectively rather than on an individual school."

But Ms Moroney was infuriated.

"Well, that is disingenuous, it doesn't, it's taxpayer-funded and it does not take away from children's education one iota."

In her letter to schools this week Lorraine Kerr said the association failed to check the validity of the statements it made at the committee and its claims about extra costs being imposed on schools were simply wrong.

She wrote the association had "absolutely no intent to deliberately mislead or confuse" the select committee but had simply failed to carry out due diligence.

Ms Kerr said the association "breached our high standards of accuracy in relation to submissions to select committees".

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said while he welcomed the association withdrawing its submission, he believed it had gone rogue.

"Their submissions that they were making to the select committee in no way represented the views of their members.

"We have been approached by a huge number of school trustees saying 'this does not represent our views, it does not represent our board' - the School Trustees Association didn't even consult school boards before they made that submission, I think they were very out of line in doing so."

However, the entire paid parental leave process may ultimately be in vain as Finance Minister Bill English has repeatedly vowed to use the government's veto to kill the bill on financial grounds.