14 Nov 2014

Integrated schools' bid for more funds

3:47 pm on 14 November 2014

Integrated schools are hoping for a multimillion-dollar funding boost to help them lower their fees and repay some of their $200 million debt for property upgrades.

Integrated schools are in the state system but owned by a proprietor such as a church.

Integrated schools are in the state system but owned by a proprietor such as a church. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The schools' owners have been arguing for many years that the Government should foot the bill when it requires them to improve school property.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has now said she wants to resolve the issue within this term of Government.

'Not a level playing field'

When the Government makes changes that require more classrooms, it covers the cost for state schools. But not for 330 integrated schools, which are in the state system but owned by a proprietor such as a church.

Most integrated schools are Catholic, and the Catholic Primary Principals Association president Mike Mokai said unless their diocese or the Catholic Education Office helps out, they just have to make do.

"We've really just had to put up with smaller spaces, or less space, and then make best use of what space we do have available ... libraries having to be turned into classrooms and other variable spaces needing to be used for classrooms."

Mr Mokai said that was hard to swallow.

"At the time of integration, the understanding was that all Catholic schools would be treated as state schools are and funded in the same way. So it's certainly not a level playing field when those changes in policy happen."

Hekia Parata

Education Minister Hekia Parata has said she wants to resolve the integrated schools' problem in this term of Government. Photo: RNZ

'We do not wish to become elitist'

Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools chief executive Pat Lynch said its members wanted the Government to pay for any future changes.

"Ultimately, the focus of the conversations we're having with Government, is that in principle the Crown agrees that when the Crown changes the curriculum requirements, which have a capital expenditure component, that the Crown says, look that's our cost."

Mr Lynch said proprietors also wanted the Government to pay off some of the $200 million they had borrowed over the years for capital works on their schools.

He would not say how much they wanted, but reducing the sum would allow proprietors to lower the fee known as an attendance due that they charge parents to cover the debt.

"We're saying to the Government, can we have some understanding that some of that money can be paid back, because we'd like to give some of that money back to the banks, so we can lower attendance dues for parents."

Catholic Secondary Principals Association president Anna Heffernan said lower attendance dues were the best thing that could come from an agreement with the Government.

"That's really important for our schools because we do not wish to become elitist schools," Ms Heffernan said.

"We want them to be affordable so they're open to the wider community - of preference students, primarily, because they're 95 percent preference in most cases, but to keep it affordable for families."

Ms Parata has not said how she expected to resolve the schools' claim, and she warned that there were many competing demands for Government money.

"We do have to be sensitive to the adjustments we make because whatever we do in one part does tend to have an effect in another part. We just have to be sure that we can, you know, that it is having a positive effect."

Ms Parata said she had made a commitment to resolving the issue in this term of Government.

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