Solway College battles lean times

By Nathan Crombie nathan.crombie@age.co.nz -
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The entrance to Masterton's Solway College, which is at the centre of claims of long-running operating deficits and plans to sell school land. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE
The entrance to Masterton's Solway College, which is at the centre of claims of long-running operating deficits and plans to sell school land. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE

Century-old Masterton girls' boarding school Solway College is thought to be considering the subdivision and sale of some of its playing fields after plunging into the red over the past several years.

A confidential source claimed the state-integrated school was planning to sell some of its land after having recorded operating deficits in 2013 and 2014 -- with its working capital in the latter year dealt a significant blow.

The school had been over-burdened with unsustainable staffing levels as well and had also breached the Education Act in April last year, the source claimed, with cash payments from the board of trustees (BOT) to the school board of proprietors (BOP) of $90,000 and $65,000 from a term deposit set aside for cyclic school maintenance. The loans had been since been repaid.

Solway College was last year ranked decile 7 -- from decile 8 the previous year -- and had a roll of about 130 Year 7 to Year 13 students. The school this year celebrated its centenary.

A letter last year to the board of trustees from David Hyland, central south region financial adviser for Ministry of Education, confirmed the financial mire into which the school had fallen.

He sought financial information from trustees to help return the school "to a solid financial position" and warned the board "the ministry is concerned about your school's financial position".

In a letter to the board dated May last year, he said financial difficulties the auditor general had discovered "raises doubts over the validity of the going concern assumption" on which the BOT financial statements had been based, and the auditor general requested confirmation the ministry will continue to support the school.

"The ministry considers Solway College to be essential to the network and will continue to provide resourcing via teacher salaries, operational funding, and school support funding if necessary, for the forseeable future."

Tracey Pollard, who was board of trustees chairwoman, resigned her post in December.

Lisa Robinson, who took over as BOT chairwoman, said the board had turned a past operating deficit to a surplus and its annual accounts were with auditors and were due to be finalised before being sent to the ministry at the end of next month.

She said there was no Ministry of Education representative still sitting in on board meetings and she was unaware of any loans made by the board to the BOP since she took up the chair. She was unaware as well of any plans to subdivide or sell any school land.

Noel McKay, chairman of the Solway College board of proprietors, said yesterday the board of trustees had been operating at a deficit although the financial situation had been since reversed.

"My understanding is that the board of trustees had an operating deficit but I believe that has been turned around. I was informed there was actually a surplus now, a small surplus, for the end of the last financial year."

Mr McKay declined to comment when asked about claims the board of trustees had last year breached the Education Act by loaning funds to the proprietors. He also declined to comment about the possibility the school was selling off some of its land.

"I've got no comment about that because it's a private organisation. There's very few people who know what we're doing."

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