A school that suggested a parent use the future sale of her home to pay thousands of dollars in donations was warned for charging interest on outstanding contributions and a compulsory $1100 for lunches.

An Education Ministry investigation, instigated after The Dominion Post revealed Rathkeale College’s proposal to the parent, has also raised concerns about methods used by other schools owned by the Trinity Schools Trust.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act reveal the Masterton state-integrated school wrongly made an $1100 annual charge for lunches compulsory and charged interest on overdue donations. It also incorrectly asked parents to pay a $250 deposit towards activities planned throughout the year and applied a 1.23 per cent levy to donations and attendance fees to provide for pupils’ education should their parents die.

Education Minister Anne Tolley wrote to the school, warning it to cease such fundraising tactics. The Trinity Schools Trust also owns St Matthew’s Collegiate School and Hadlow Preparatory School. The ministry was concerned that the questionable charges at Rathkeale College would also be in place at the other two Masterton schools.

The chairman of its board of trustees has called for the Government to review the rules on what it can charge for, saying they are confusing.

The investigation’s result is a relief to parent Karen Bock, who was in a battle with the school after it suggested she secure $13,000 in unpaid donations against the future sale of her home. She paid about $2000 a year in compulsory fees but could not afford to pay the extra voluntary donation. She said the ministry findings were an “eye opener”. If she had known the charge for lunches was not compulsory she would not have paid. “I would have made my son’s lunch myself and saved the money. It’s very pleasing everything has been clarified. The school thought they could reinvent the law.”

In her letter, Mrs Tolley said she had ordered the ministry to check the school is following the rules when classes begin next month.

“This will be to assess that the … board have considered the points I have made. I hope that the … board, as proprietor of two other schools, would ensure that the concerns I have raised are also addressed at these schools.”

Board chairman John Greenwood said the school would comply with Mrs Tolley’s request but was not entirely happy. “We have differing opinions, but we just have to respect her opinion and move on. The rules about what schools can charge for need a lot more clarity … They are open to interpretation.” Mrs Tolley has also asked Rathkeale College to consider reducing its $1000-a-term donation as it “seemed high”.

The decile-9 integrated boys’ school gets about $567,000 in government funding a year and collected more than $400,000 in voluntary fees in 2008. The board was also warned in 2004 about compulsory charges for lunches.

By law, every child has the right to a free education from age five to 19.

Education Ministry guidelines say state and state-integrated schools must make it clear that donations are voluntary and they must not charge for anything used to deliver the curriculum, such as photocopying, paper or internet access.

State-integrated schools, which are partly government-funded, have a “special character”, based on a religion or educational philosophy.

They can charge attendance fees to cover capital improvements, insurance and debt or mortgage bills related to school buildings.

Fees have to be approved by the ministry. Parents should contact the school’s board of trustees if they think they are being overcharged. After that, a complaint can be made to the ministry.

-Dom Post

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