Public service cuts: School fees waived as parents struggle to pay

A big jump in the number of Wellington parents who cannot afford to pay school fees and donations is being blamed on recent public service redundancies.

Wellington High School emailed families last week to say it was aware some families have been affected by the recent slew of public sector job cuts and they should consider school donations and fees a “low priority”.

Thousands of public sector roles have already been axed.

Wellington High School principal Dominic Killalea said families were stepping up to help cover others who could not afford voluntary donations and fees.

“There’s been some families that have been ‘thank you we really appreciate the support’ and others families who have come in said ‘we’re happy to pay for two families’. I think at this stage the balance is in favour of having extra money available to support those families,” Killalea said.

Killalea said the school would typically ask for a voluntary donation of $350 for a family with one student at the school.

He said emphasising the voluntary nature of the donations felt timely and “the right thing to do”.

“School’s such a wonderful sandpit to be able to try out lots of things but those options depend on money and that can be challenging. So we’re aware of that and we’re just trying to provide that support,” Killalea said.

Wellington High School principal Dominic Killalea.

Sarah Jane Parton’s child attended Wellington High School. She said she was grateful for the school’s pragmatic approach to the fees as job cuts in the capital were leading to uncertain times for many in her community.

Parton said she was studying part time and over the years she and her partner had chosen not to pay when they could not afford it.

She said the school’s move helped to ease any shame families might feel if they could not meet the extra costs.

“[The school is] wanting to teach the kids to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be engaged in the world and look at the wider context and here they are living those kind of ideals and principles. No high school is perfect but I think they’re doing a pretty great job,” Parton said.

Some parents in the capital said it was just not possible to stump up for extra costs this year.

Retailer Amber Smith said she set out a weekly payment to make sure she could cover her child’s school costs but any additional fees were beyond her.

“I get a bill – at the end of the year – they say what’s remaining and I never pay it,” Smith said.

Another person – who worked in the public sector and did not want to be named – said she knew of plenty of people who were struggling to cope and she felt for people who had unexpectedly lost their jobs.

“I do know a number of friends who have massive mortgages at the moment and they’re starting up Airbnbs to just pay bills and they’re all in professional jobs,” she said.

Parents proactively voicing struggles with fees

Wellington Girls college has also seen a significant jump in families struggling financially.

Principal Julia Davidson told RNZ the school was hearing from parents that job cuts in the public sector were causing anxiety about their finances.

She said it was unusual for parents to be so proactive about telling the school they were struggling to pay the fees.

“Certainly, the number of people has increased significantly.”

She said there was usually a steady amount of people who had issues with paying fees, but there had been a marked increase this year.

“These are people who would usually have paid their donations without a question, but this time they’re not just questioning, they’re asking for help.”

Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson.

The public service sector cuts were “definitely” a factor, Davidson said.

“That’s what they’re telling us – I’m either about to lose my job, or I think I’m going to lose my job. So they’re being quite honest about that.”

She said the school was waiving the charges and relying on charitable donations to cover the shortfall, so kids did not miss out.

“So it won’t mean anything for the kids, we’ll simply not invoice them for it, and the school will pick up the bill. We’ve been quite fortunate in getting some money from charitable trusts who have been happy to give us money to fill those gaps.

“That’s not going to go on forever, but if it came down to it, we would just find the money, because you have to, you don’t want kids missing out on things. So we’ll do anything to keep them engaged, and keep them playing sport or going on camps or doing those things that they love.”

Davidson said there were some parents who could afford it, and were offering to pay double to allow another student to take part in trips and activities.

“And that’s always fantastic and amazing when that happens, so we are very fortunate there.”

Funding education

IT consultant Simon Morris said it did not make sense for the government to be pouring millions into changing the way schools teach when they were not adequately funded in the first place.

“So rather than spending hundreds of millions on enabling schools to become charter status why don’t we actually give schools the funding they need to actually teach kids properly,” Morris said.

Wendy Desiles said it was a sad reality that a lot of families were struggling.

“In an ideal world everything would be funded beautifully by the state and the school would be funded and have all the facilities and teachers and equipment they need.

“But unfortunately it’s not an ideal world – particularly at the moment. Everyone understands things are tight and the government have different priorities at the moment. It’s a tricky one isn’t it,” Desiles said.

Mother of two school age children, Kate said she felt the government’s aspirations were aimed at the broader performance of the country’s education system.

“If you’re looking at reading, maths scores and the trend of our results and performance going down over the last ten years.

“Then if those changes are directed at those and improving those results that’s certainly trying to implement a performance change. I think if they’re throwing money at things that are working well then I think there would be questions there,” she said.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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