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$171m cash injection 'slap in face for schools'

By Brooke Donovan

An Auckland principal has attacked the Government's pre-Budget funding increase as "total spin" and a "slap in the face to schools struggling to manage".

Education minister Chris Carter yesterday announced an extra $171.6 million over the next four years, which represents a 5 per cent increase in schools' operations grants. It includes $65.3 million for information and communication technology, or ICT.

But John Petrie, principal of Gulf Harbour School in Whangaparaoa, said the increase would amount to only an extra $25,000 in total for his decile 10 school over the four years.

"It won't even cover the increase in our cleaning costs," Mr Petrie said.

"It's an absolute challenge and we're looking at how we're going to balance the books."

Mr Petrie added that before the announcement, principals had been hoping for at least a 10 per cent increase in the operations grant, and would be watching the Budget "with great interest".

Wayne Bainbridge, principal of Matipo School in Auckland's Te Atatu, where the funding increase was announced, was more enthusiastic, saying 5 per cent was "reasonable".

"Everyone would say it's not enough but it's a start. ICT is the Black Hole of Calcutta - every three years the gear is obsolete and has to be replaced," Mr Bainbridge said.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association said the increase came in at 1 per cent above inflation, making it a "minor catch-up".

"We need to make sure it is spent wisely," president Robin Duff said. "The operations grant is by several estimates 40 per cent underfunded. Now it is 39 per cent underfunded."

Mr Duff hoped today's Budget would herald an increase in staffing resources for secondary schools that are "badly in deficit".

"A 5 per cent increase is not going to go far while so much of the operations grant has to be spent on staffing," he said.

Ray Newport, general manager of the New Zealand School Trustees Association, said the extra funding was welcome, especially when coupled with last year's teacher pay rise, but "there is still some way to go".

"There is still a significant gap that needs to be closed, particularly on ICT costs, because ICT costs equate to about $240 million a year. The Government contributes $70 [million] or $80 million to that and the boards pick up the rest.

"While the additional $65 million a year will be helpful, boards will still be paying the lion's share."

He added that the full potential of the extra funding would only be realised if it was adjusted for inflation.

Mr Carter told the Herald that his next priority was addressing funding for support workers, including cleaners and caretakers, who were historically some of the country's lowest-paid workers.

"We've identified [support staff] as a cost pressure because the minimum wage has gone up every year under the Labour Government and schools have been funding cleaners and caretakers out of their own operations grant," Mr Carter said.

"I'm anticipating there will be a funding call and I'm keen to do it."

He said the Government still had to decide whether any extra funding would be centralised or provided through schools' operations grants.

Mr Newport agreed that support staff and ICT were the two "big drivers of cost".

The education spokeswoman for the National Party, Anne Tolley, said voters would "see right through" the announcement as "cynical election year pork-barrelling".

- NZ Herald

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