11 Nov 2013

NZEI wants public inquiry into commissioners

7:33 pm on 11 November 2013

One of the country's biggest education unions, the NZEI, wants a public inquiry into the use of school commissioners and statutory managers.

A "please explain" has been sent to Education Minister Hekia Parata over why commissioner Michael Eru has been paid nearly $150,000, including expenses, to run Moerewa School in Northland part-time.

Mr Eru was appointed after the minister sacked the school's board of trustees for resisting instructions to close down a unit for senior pupils.

The NZEI, which represents primary school teachers, says commissioners should be paid to quickly sort out running problems in schools. National secretary Paul Goulter says some commissioners are staying in their roles far too long.

He says the current set-up is perverse and obviously incentivises people to stay.

The Principals Federation says the system by which commissioners are appointed is in urgent need of an overhaul.

It took the Tai Tokerau Principals Association six months, several Official Information Act (OIA) requests, two appeals to the Ombudsman and the threat of legal action to establish what Mr Eru has been paid.

Association president Pat Newman says it has finally been disclosed that between April 2012 and May this year Mr Eru charged Moerewa School $95,000 for his services - 80 hours a month, at $100 an hour - and also claimed expenses of $53,000 from the Education Ministry.

Mr Newman says the senior unit was closed on Mr Eru's arrival, the school has always had good ERO reports and there is no good reason for a commissioner to still be a drain on its budget.

He says the expense invoices Mr Eru has submitted are very general - and despite repeated OIA requests for all documentation, he has provided no receipts. Mr Newman says the work Mr Eru has done at Moerewa School would normally have cost it about $5000 in board fees - but he has collected $149,000 for it.

He says Mr Eru has also been paid $53,000 a year for four years to run an Otara school in South Auckland, and if a school's problems can't be sorted out within two years, then something is wrong.

Board of trustees 'likely' to return

Principals Federation president Phillip Harding says anyone living in a democracy must be concerned by the conflict of interest that arises when commissioners replace boards of trustees.

He says they draw significant fees from schools' operational budgets for as long as the commissioners themselves recommend it - he knows of some annual figures in excess of $100,000.

Michael Eru, whom the ministry says was appointed to deal with a number of ''risk areas'' at Moerewa, has not responded to an invitation to comment.

The ministry says the intervention will be reviewed shortly and a return to an elected board of trustees is likely to be recommended.

The School Trustees Association says about 70 schools are being run by commissioners or statutory managers, and that in itself is not a problem. President Lorraine Kerr says, however, that the association frequently has to remind the ministry about schools that have been under a commissioner or manager for longer than necessary.