Theft of nearly $30k in school funds by principal leads to registration cancellation

By Shannon Pitman, Open Justice reporter of

An empty primary school classroom.

Cash withdrawals on a school credit card at restaurants, pubs, and casinos of almost $30,000 have resulted in the cancellation of a principal’s teacher’s registration.

Miriama Harmer, 60, was the principal at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi, catering to Year 1 to 8 students in Whanganui.

As part of her role, Harmer was given access to a school Visa card requiring authorisation by the board of trustees for transactions.

However, in 2018, an auditor noticed several unaccounted transactions.

From January 2017 to January 2019, Harmer made numerous unauthorised cash withdrawals and payments without the board’s knowledge or approval and failed to maintain adequate receipts or account for her expenditures.

Some transactions included withdrawals at St Johns Club, Stellar Restaurant and Bar in Whanganui, Rosie O’Grady’s Irish Pub in Palmerston North and SkyCity Casino in Auckland.

In total Harmer’s unauthorised spending totalled $29,549.00 – $19,000 of this was in cash withdrawals.

In February 2019, the board raised the concerns with Harmer, launched an investigation and filed a mandatory report to the Teacher’s Council regarding Harmer’s conduct.

Despite Harmer resigning from her position in April 2019 and paying $25,000 of the debt back by September, the council has now deemed Harmer’s conduct serious and cancelled her registration.

At an investigation meeting in 2022, Harmer said she had been dealing with a significant amount of stress, a large amount she claimed due to her relationship with the school board, and could not remember many of the transactions.

Harmer accepted her conduct was unacceptable but said that a lot of the transactions involved pay advances for teachers and purchases for the school from Trade Me.

Harmer reported to the council she went into a restorative justice process with the kura (school), which accepted her apology, but the council maintained a penalty must be imposed to protect the wider community and uphold the values of the teaching profession.

“Ms Harmer has failed to respect her trusted position in society and her conduct involved a significant and very serious falling short of expected standards on multiple occasions, that reflect adversely on her fitness to be a teacher,” the report said.

“While Ms Harmer may well have been under stress at the time of her conduct, caused by her strained relationship with the board of trustees and other related stressors, this does not excuse the misconduct or mitigate its gravity, given the ongoing repeated and deliberate nature of it, and Ms Harmer’s position of responsibility at the time.”

Since the offending, she has engaged with counselling and the Problem Gambling Foundation.

The tribunal opted for the least restrictive penalty with a formal censure for her unacceptable behaviour and the cancellation of her teaching registration.

Harmer was also ordered to pay $4812 in costs to the Complaints Authority Council (CAC) and $582 to the Teaching Council.

This story was first published by the New Zealand Herald.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button