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NZSTA school board support 'like blind leading the blind'

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Helensville Primary School Board of Trustees held their first meeting for 2019 last Thursday evening with a group of concerned parents in attendance as the board continued to withhold their annual reports.

A growing number of parents have requested to see the annual reports after the Board formally refused to provide them to Regan Cunliffe, a parent of children at the school. None are known to have received a response from the board to date.

New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) governance advisor Ingrid van Rijn also attended the meeting, and addressed the board about publishing their annual reports on their website. However, when Board chair Daniel Makin asked her when it would become a legal requirement, she said she did not know the details but thought it was definitely a requirement for 2020.

Section 87AB has been in effect since 19 May 2017 and states that a board must ensure that its annual report is available to the public on an Internet site maintained by or on behalf of the board.

The Office of the Auditor General provided the following response to Regan Cunliffe’s report Public Availability of School Annual Reports - Education Act Compliance by New Zealand State Schools (available at improbable.co.nz):

"The 2017 annual reports, which were audited and published in 2018, was the first time that schools were required to publish their annual reports on their websites. We reminded schools of this requirement in our management letters to boards following the 2017 audits, and the Ministry of Education had also provided guidance to schools."

"Schools, as Crown Entities, are obligated to follow Section 87AB of the Education Act 1989. The Ministry is responsible for monitoring schools’ compliance with the Education Act 1989. That is why we recommended (as quoted in your report) that the Ministry reinforces its guidance to schools on annual reports and consider how it can confirm that schools are publishing these in a timely manner."

"We intend to follow up progress as part of the 2018 audits. Our auditors will also again remind schools of their legal requirements. We will raise any concerns about compliance directly with the school boards, and we will again report on this issue in our annual letter to the Ministry, which is also published on our website."

Regan Cunliffe said, "It is astounding that an NZSTA governance advisor could come in to speak to a board about annual reports and yet not have a clue about the board's legal responsibility when it came into effect almost two years ago."

"The Auditor General and Ministry of Education send clear information to boards about their responsibilities and obligations which are being ignored."

"NZSTA is contracted by the Ministry of Education to provide support to Boards of Trustees, but this can hardly be deemed ‘support’ when it’s more like blind leading the blind."

The board has two accountants involved in handling the school finances, Board chair Daniel Makin and parent trustee Peter Edlington.

The annual reports that have been refused cover the period of time since Deborah Heasman took over as principal of the school.

The latest annual report is still unavailable on Helensville Primary School’s website.

Complaints were laid with the Ministry of Education and the Ombudsman last year.

The Helensville Primary School Board of Trustees met with Regan Cunliffe and his wife Rachel for mediation in September 2018 after they had laid multiple complaints regarding Principal Deborah Heasman and the board. After the failed mediation, one of the longest-serving board members, the staff trustee, and the principal’s assistant and board minute taker each resigned.

David Munro was co-opted to the board on NZSTA's request during this period.

The remaining trustees are Principal Deborah Heasman, Board chair Daniel Makin, Peter Edlington, Nicola Reynolds, and John Olsen.

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