Parents pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in private school fees, but where does the money go? And how much better resourced are private and integrated schools compared to their public peers? Matt Nippert read hundreds of annual reports to build New Zealand's private school rich list.
The old joke about Christchurch's default icebreaker being "what school did you go to?" has been shown to have more than a grain of truth, after the garden city delivered an outsized performance in a Weekend Herald analysis of private school wealth.
In 2020 the Weekend Herald compiled its first private school rich list, ranking the country's 10 wealthiest primary and secondary educational institutions. That list was dominated by large Auckland private schools.
Now the exercise has been repeated, but expanded with the pool widened to include the 20 richest schools in the country, and also broken down by capital allocation per student to get a better picture of how well-resourced schools are, even if they have smaller student catchments.
Despite Christchurch's much smaller population, its schools make up most of the top seven on the list and six of its schools made the top 20 - beaten only by Auckland, which had nine, and a third of New Zealand's population to cater to.
The only exceptions to the Christchurch-Auckland private school duopoly were Wellington (two schools), Hamilton (two) and a cluster of small Anglican institutions in provincial Masterton.
The 20 schools on this list represent most of the non-state school sector in New Zealand and have a combined roll of more than 20,000 students and net assets totalling $2.8 billion.
Most are purely private schools - paying for their own grounds and employing their own teaching staff, and charging fees of up to $30,000 per annum - but five have partly transitioned into the state sector and are integrated. For these schools, the Ministry of Education pays for teaching staff, but the schools are responsible for managing their own (often extensive) school grounds and associated investments and are limited in how much parents can be charged.
Compared to the overall state education sector, the private and integrated sector is relatively tiny, catering for only 3 per cent of the school-age population: 759,728 primary and secondary students are now taught within the state system.
The Ministry of Education reports $23.7b in net assets - largely made up of more than 2000 school properties - meaning a rough $31,000 of capital is deployed per student in the public system. This is a fraction of the amount employed by schools at the top of this rich list.
At Dilworth, a stark outlier whose revenue is drawn solely from a billion-dollar property portfolio, each student is backed by nearly $2m in net assets. At King's College, the archetype of the private school in New Zealand, each student is backed with nearly eight times as much capital as their state-school peers.
This analysis was drawn from the Charities Register, with charitable structures employed by almost all New Zealand integrated and private schools, first looking for educational institutions with net assets greater than $5m, then aggregating significant related entities such as fund-raising foundations and alumni-driven charitable trusts.
A notable omission from this list is the ACG Group, which operates four private schools in Auckland and Tauranga educating thousands of students. Run as a private company rather than a registered charity, ACG is not required to file accounts to a public register and escapes scrutiny.
While no public schools made these rankings, largely because the Ministry of Education owns the school properties, elite metropolitan secondary school Auckland Grammar came close. A cluster of charitable trusts serving Auckland Grammar has assembled an impressive $48m in net assets - a war chest large enough to buy a smaller school outright.
1. Dilworth School for Boys. Net assets per student: $1,965,327
Auckland's growth over the past 100 years - and the associated real-estate appreciation - has resulted in Dilworth becoming the country's first billion-dollar school and easily the best-resourced educational establishment in the country.
Dilworth is also the cheapest private school to attend, as under the terms of its 1903 founding documents the 517 boys on the roll are charged nothing for room, board and to study.
The school copes with this lack of fee income thanks to a net asset base that reached $1.074b, according to its accounts for the year to July 2021. Its war chest comprises $756m in largely Auckland investment properties and another $130m in managed fund holdings.
At this scale Dilworth is enormously rich in New Zealand terms (having more than three times the net assets of King's College, the next richest school on this list) but also internationally (its asset base is now larger than even the United Kingdom's historic and posh Eton College).
But as many New Zealand retirees know, balance-sheet property wealth doesn't always translate into cash. While 2021 saw a striking growth in net assets - thanks to $64m in unrealised gains in the value of investment properties - the school also recorded a $5.5m net income deficit.
This gap between expenditure and cash income is being partly managed with debt, as the school took out a $50m loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
Its trustees are probably the best-paid of any school in the country - having to manage both a billion-dollar property empire as well as a school - with the six members of its board collecting $561,875 in fees over the year.
Clouds are on the horizon, however, as the board is also grappling with how to respond - both financially and legally - to fallout from the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care and recent criminal prosecutions of a handful of its former staff over historic abuse.
2. Wesley College: $505,571
Wesley College, founded by Methodists in 1844, is the oldest school still operating in New Zealand. In 1976 it was the first private school to integrate with the state system, and has since served a largely Polynesian student body of boarders.
Financial pressures from being asset-rich but cash-poor led to the momentous decision in 2009 to sell farmland surrounding its grounds to generate cash through an ambitious property development programme.
That programme, Paerata Rise, is a joint venture with the Methodist Church and aims to build 4500 homes by 2040. Wesley's share of the venture is listed in accounts as now worth $95.1m and last year accounted for more than half Wesley's net surplus of $11.3m.
3. King's College: $235,733
Charging high fees and with more than a century of tradition and capital accumulation, King's College is the commonly understood archetype of a private school.
Its expansive Ōtāhuhu grounds are recorded as being worth $235m, and its foundation holds $29m in shares and bonds. King's College's financial strength is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that it has zero long-term debt.
Notable alumni include numerous rich-listers, and also National Party MP Sam Uffindell.
Its board, headed by TVNZ chief executive and former National Cabinet Minister Simon Power, also boasts a professor, a bishop, private sector CEOs and directors of NZX-listed companies, and appears to be the most expensive school board in the country to sit on.
Board members receive no fees, and last year were recorded as having donated $1m among them to the school ($500,000 the previous year). King's College's total haul of $4.5m in donations last year makes it New Zealand's most successful school fundraiser, and suggests it is unlikely to ever retreat down this list.
4. Christ's College: $189,815
The oldest private school in the country, founded in 1850, Christ's was modelled on the upper crust of the English public school system, with compulsory Anglican instruction until the final few years of study.
While its central Christchurch grounds are valued at $70m, Christ's position is substantially bolstered by $48m in managed funds - giving it the largest financial assets war chest of any school in New Zealand outside of Dilworth.
Notable alumni include actor Sam Neill, the late double Victoria Cross winner Charles Upham and ANZ's former New Zealand boss, the late Sir John Anderson.
5. Selwyn House School: $133,384
The smallest school on this list with only 229 students, and catering only to female primary pupils, Selwyn House School in the Christchurch suburb of Merivale may lack the profile of its peers but nevertheless boasts an asset base most would envy.
While student numbers are only a fraction of its contemporaries, Selwyn House's school buildings - including a dance studio, heated indoor pool and tennis courts - are valued at $29.8m while its long-term debt amounts to a trifling $14,269.
Notes to its accounts show Selwyn was hit harder by the pandemic than most, with boarding occupancy rates having declined 40 per cent last year.
6. St Andrew's College: $125,193
Christchurch's St Andrew's was founded by Presbyterian clergy in 1917 to "educate the sons of the Presbyterian and Scottish community of Canterbury". It began accepting girls as students in 1992 and offers boarding and both primary and secondary schooling.
With a roll of 1590 it is the largest single school to make the top 10, with its grounds assessed as being worth $179.5m and its $14m in investment assets - which notes to accounts said dived 5 per cent this year in the shocks following interest rate rises and Russia's invasion of Ukraine - included more than a million dollars worth of forestry.
7. Medbury School: $110,720
The third member of the quartet of Christchurch schools in the top seven is a private primary boys' school based in Ilam, whose most famous former student is actor Sam Neill.
Medbury celebrates its centenary next year, but has been running operating deficits for at least the past two years - albeit alongside steady unrealised appreciation in the value of its $47m school grounds.
A parallel foundation holds $3.3m in investment assets, and the school's principal and deputy are reported in annual reports to be paid a combined $412,798.
8. King's School: $102,320
King's School started when King's College decamped from its Remuera premises to a larger site in Ōtāhuhu. Despite being a primary school spinoff, it now has 100 years under its belt since its 1922 founding and is Auckland's richest primary school.
According to average fees collected per student ($28,029) King's School also appears to be the country's most expensive for parents. With $45.2m worth of school buildings and grounds, $15.2m in cash, $12.3m in financial assets, and only $1m in borrowing, there are few clouds on its horizon.
9. Scots College $85,716
The first Wellington contribution to this list is Scots College, founded in 1916 and run as a boys' secondary school for more than 100 years until it began accepting girls in 2019.
Its Wellington grounds have steadily appreciated in value - now worth $110m - but its financial assets ($4.3m) are considerably less than most of its private school peers. However it can claim the country's most famous donor, with basketball player and former student Steven Adams having tipped in $383,910 to date.
It's not all slam dunks for Scots College, however: last year the school reported a working capital deficit, long-term borrowings of $20.3m and required activation of a bank overdraft.
10. Marcellin College, Sacred Heart College and St Paul's College: $74,319
These three now-integrated secondary schools are run in a consolidated structure by the Marist Brothers. Among them, Marcellin (Royal Oak), Sacred Heart (Glendowie) and St Paul's (Grey Lynn) have a combined 2316 students - the largest school organisation on this list.
The vast bulk of the schools' net assets - $192m - is tied up in school grounds and properties worth $160m. While there is $16.7m invested in financial assets through Hobson Wealth Partners, this is eclipsed by $17.9m in bank debts.
11. St Oran's College: $67,884
St Oran's is an integrated Presbyterian girls' secondary school in Lower Hutt and is the second and last representative from Wellington on this list.
A relatively new school, founded in 1958, the bulk of its assets are tied up in school property and buildings ($34.5m) but - unusually for an educational establishment - it also has the Green Gables Motel listed as an investment property ($3.3m).
In 2021 St Oran's reported a modest working capital deficit, and $3.2m of long-term loans from Westpac.
12. Rathkeale College, St Matthew's Collegiate and Hadlow School: $67,840
This trio of three small (combined roll of 783) integrated schools overseen by the Trinity Schools Trust Boards covers all the Anglican bases in Masterton. There's Hadlow School (co-ed primary), Rathkeale College (boys' secondary) and St Matthew's Collegiate (girls' secondary).
In their most recent accounts, the trio of schools reported a bumper surplus of $6.8m, but this was largely off the back of $6m in unrealised property revaluations and the schools carry $7.2m in bank debt.
Auditors also flagged a significant $2.2m working capital deficit which required their board to respond: "Trustees are satisfied that the trust board will be able to meet its liability obligations as and when they fall due."
13. Waikato Diocesan School for Girls: $66,515
Anglican integrated school Waikato Diocesan School for Girls made national headlines in 2015 when its commercial manager Tessa Grant was convicted and jailed for stealing $800,000 from the school to fund diamond rings and her equestrian hobby.
The school has stabilised since then, and secured its place as the richest school outside Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, thanks to $51.3m in school property assets and another $2.8m in investments - with the latter all being held as bank deposits.
14. Rangi Ruru Girls' School: $65,032
Another 100-year-old Christchurch institution, Presbyterian Rangi Ruru was founded in 1889 and today's operates as a private girls' secondary boarding school.
2020 was a bumper year for donations, with $4m recorded - second only to King's College - revealed in notes to its accounts as largely from a single bequest from a former pupil being put towards a news sports and multipurpose centre.
The school is supported by a parallel foundation with $2.5m in financial assets split between shares and bonds, but still faces a $4.5m working capital deficit.
15. St Kentigern: $64,250
A relatively young private school - founded in 1953 - St Kentigern is now almost a franchise with a preschool, girls' and boys' primary and a co-ed secondary school having a combined roll of 2264, making it by some margin the largest single institution on this list.
And its revenue per student of $27,451 appears to make St Kentigern the second most expensive school for parents, behind only King's School.
And this revenue is fuelling growth: the school has grounds and buildings worth $139m, $31.5m more in construction under way, another $28.4m in financial assets, and no loans.
16. St Paul's Collegiate: $63,514
Run by the Waikato Anglican College Trust, Hamilton's St Paul's Collegiate was opened in 1959 as a boys-only school but began admitting girls from 1985.
The school has faced a debt squeeze in recent years, but in 2021 manage to halve its ratio of debt to net assets. However it still carries $15m in bank debts and faces a working capital deficit of $8m.
Notable alumni include former New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori and National Party MP Sam Uffindell.
17. Diocesan School for Girls: $55,551
The largest girls-only school on this list was founded in 1903 and has benefited from its central Auckland location, with its Epsom grounds now valued at $101m.
Financial losses suffered in 2020, due to a write off of an investment in a Fund that was placed into liquidation, are yet to be fully made up.
Notes to the most recent accounts say of its near-million dollars tied up with the Penrich fund: "There may be some recovery, but this is uncertain at this time." Current financial investments of $6.8m are now being held in managed funds.
18. Kristin School: $54,972
The newest school on this list, founded in 1973, Kristin offers co-educational schooling all the way from preschool to secondary.
Its expansive grounds in Albany are now valued at $144m, and investment properties worth $6m include a golf school and a medical centre.
19. St Margaret's College: $52,697
The sixth representative from Christchurch on this list, St Margarets is an Anglican girls' school based in Merivale whose grounds are assessed as worth $57.4m.
The school has a parallel foundation holding $1.5m in net assets, but is carrying a relatively high debt load with a $12.3m term loan, and reported working capital deficits over the past two years.
20. St Cuthbert's College: $39,875
The final entry on this list has capital resources per student that are comparable to the state sector ($39,875 vs $31,230).
Founded in 1915 as the "Auckland Presbyterian College for Ladies", it today provides both primary and secondary education for girls.
With low levels of debt, its net assets of $58.6m are almost entirely reliant on its Epsom school grounds being valued at $55.2m.