Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Fee scrap: Girl banned from ball

Tony Hunt and daughter Jazcinta Calderon-Hunt. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Tony Hunt and daughter Jazcinta Calderon-Hunt. Photo / Sarah Ivey

One of New Zealand's largest schools has banned from its ball any students whose parents don't pay annual school fees - a move one father says verges on extortion.

Avondale College says if the donation is not paid, students cannot attend the school ball on June 15 as it is an "extra-curricular activity" and ticket prices do not cover the cost.

Most schools ask for donations, and tens of millions are paid by parents each year. But schools cannot legally force parents to pay.

Tony Hunt, whose daughter Jazcinta Calderon-Hunt is in Year 13 at Avondale College, bought a $110 ball ticket for her, but does not want to pay the $175 donation.

"Every dollar counts. But more to the point is that they advertise it as a donation. Therefore, it is voluntary. And the school ball is an important event for the kids.

"There are a lot of parents who feel obligated to pay the fee, even though they may be struggling."

Avondale College board of trustees chairman Kevin Glubb said the long-standing position on ball attendance was made because ticket sales did not cover the cost of the event.

School donations were voluntary, but because they heavily subsidised the school ball - an extra-curricular activity - only those who paid were allowed to attend.

"It has been a historical approach - it predates my time on the board, and I don't think any student at the school is unaware of it."

Mr Glubb said the board recognised issues in the policy stance, and he believed a new approach would be taken next year.

Only two or three students were affected, he said, and in the case of hardship the school would "come to the party immediately".

The most recent Ministry of Education figures show parents paid $98.4 million in donations to schools in 2010, up from $75 million in 2008.

Ministry of Education guidelines say schools can charge fees for take-home items, activities or events that enhance teaching of the curriculum, as long as parents are told beforehand and agree to pay.

Principals' Association's Tom Parsons said such donations were essential for many schools.

"A school ball is an extra function, and I suppose ... the school board has the right to say, 'we consider part of the ball ticket is you paying school fees'."

Auckland state schools vary in their approach to balls and fees.

Mt Albert Grammar School headmaster Dale Burden, said donations once subsidised the school ball, and students whose parents had not paid were charged higher ticket prices.

But since 2010, students had paid the full cost of the ball and there had been no subsidy.

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said school donations could be a vexed issue, but boards were entitled to make decisions about their collection.

Meanwhile, schools are again wrestling with the problem of after-ball functions.

Mr Burden said MAGS took the attitude that students were in the care of their parents after the ball finished, and made them sign forms agreeing this was the case.

Kristin School will hold its ball at Vector Arena next month and will hold an official afterball - which will be alcohol-free - at the same venue.

* Has there been any trouble with your school ball or an after-ball function? Send your story, photos or video here.

- NZ Herald

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