‘Shameful’ – Union slams former charter schools’ use of public money

New Zealand’s largest education union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, has delivered a scathing response to the findings of an inquiry into how former charter schools used public funds.

The Office of the Auditor General’s inquiry into management fees paid by former charter schools, South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland, has raised serious questions and action should now be taken against those responsible, says NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford. He said, the OAG inquiry, ‘shows how flawed the Act Party’s Charter School’s policy was, particularly in regards to financial accountability.’ 

In the inquiry report, Auditor-General John Ryan criticised the board of the two former charter schools for paying $450,000 of government funding to the schools owners, prior to them joining the state school system.

Auditor-General John Ryan
Image: Office of the Auditor-General

“The circumstances of this payment create a perception of a lack of integrity. Acting with integrity, and being seen to act with integrity, are fundamental to maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in public organisations and in the public sector as a whole,” the report said.

“Such an obvious mishandling of public money that should be spent on benefiting the schools, educators and tamariki is shameful and the Board needs to be held to account,” said Rutherford.

Adding, “Act’s claims that Charter Schools would be more accountable than public schools has been shown up for as erroneous. In fact, one of the huge problems with the Charter Schools model has always been the potential for financial mismanagement.”

Liam Rutherford

This week, Villa Education Trust chief executive Karen Poole defended the accusations. The Trust opened the ‘Partnership Schools‘ in South Auckland in 2014, and West Auckland in 2015. Poole told media in a statement, “We are confident that we handled this prudently, appropriately and with strong governance protocols in place. We worked closely alongside the Ministry of Education teams and followed their guidance at all times.

“While ultimately we accept the OAG’s findings that there could have been better documentation around the relationship and scope of work between the two entities, we remain comfortable that the school establishment was within the establishment budget we were given by the Crown for the changeover and was spent diligently on the school establishment process.”

The Villa Education Trust’s wesbite states, “In 2014 the Trust opened a Partnership Schools in South Auckland with a second opening in West Auckland in 2015.  At the end of 2018 the Partnerships Schools closed due to Government policy and became Designated Character Schools. This means they are now state schools and still operate under the Villa Education Trust model.”

Rutherford adds, “How the Board didn’t recognise a very obvious conflict of interest is at the very least, irresponsible. Those responsible should resign immediately.”

Heather Barker Vermeer

Heather has worked as a journalist, writer and editor in England and Aotearoa New Zealand for over 20 years. She fell in love with words when she received a 'Speak & Spell' tech toy for Christmas in 1984.
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2 years ago

I don’t understand the financial management failings, but what I can say is…The current education system failed my son miserably, in every single way, both emotionally and educationally. They simply didn’t have the skill set required to teach someone with ptsd, and audio processing disabilities that were’t even talked about 10 years ago. He went to one of these charter schools in South Auckland at aged 15 and he thrived!!!! Mostly because of the way they taught him how to teach, so he was involved, he was surrounded with other kids that needed the type of structure and emotional respect that he received there. He was on a downward spiral and I fully didn’t expect him to survive. Thank God is all I can say for the option of getting out of mainstream education. But no, it seems to all be about money, which lets face it, is what our education system ultimately cares about. All the fluff on top doesn’t hide this fact.

2 years ago

Middle School West Auckland was the best school n Auckland I ever worked at, I was there for a term in 2019 although my teaching career started in 2006 in Auckland. The senior management and staff were Fantastic and the students enjoyed being there and behaved well. The Middle School model of year 7 to year 10 is also ideal for transition from primary to high school. I don’t know anything about the board management.

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