A South Auckland school has been ticked off by the Audit Office for using taxpayer funds to subsidise a trip to Hawaii.
Clendon Park School, a decile-1 school of 612 students, has confirmed that it used $14,580 from its Māori language funding to help pay for the Hawaii trip for 23 students, three of the students' siblings and 23 adult parents and teachers.
The Audit Office says in its annual report on schools that the school's total contribution of $53,371 towards the $153,580 cost of the trip was "significant considering the small number of students and families involved".
"It was also inappropriate for the school to fund travel for students from other schools," the office said.
It said a Rotorua school, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu, also "spent more than the board approved on an educational trip to Mexico" in 2017.
That trip has already led to a censure by the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal of the kura's principal at the time, Uenuku Fairhall, for sleeping naked in the same bed as another student during the trip.
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The two schools were the only ones singled out for inappropriate spending on overseas trips in this year's report, but 36 schools were listed as in "financial difficulty" because they did not have enough funds at the time of the audit to cover their expected costs in the next year.
Others were listed as slipping up for a variety of reasons, including one other school, Blue Mountain College in Southland, which "did not provide enough information to explain $52,200 of the $306,113 it spent on an overseas trip".
Clendon Park School principal Sue Dawson, who went on the Hawaii trip with her husband in October last year, said it followed an earlier trip in 2008 which had led to an ongoing relationship between the school's eight-class Māori bilingual unit and seven indigenous schools in Hawaii.
"It's about sharing our cultures and learning from each other," she said.
"There are really strong connections with Hawaii in terms of myths and legends. Every night I used to read the kids a different myth. There are such similarities to our own myths.
"We go to Pearl Harbour and talk to the kids about the Māori Battalion and the part they played in the war.
"It's a massive learning. For our decile 1 kids, this is really important. We are taking kids to the Gold Coast, we take them down to Mt Ruapehu every year. We want them to have experiences that broaden their horizons and give them aspirations."
Board chairman Wayne Bennett said the parents, teachers and students who went on the trip paid $100,209 themselves, and another $39,000 was raised through a three-year fundraising campaign in the school's Māori community.
"The school has never been made aware that once this fundraising was accrued in the school account it was deemed to be Crown money," he said.
"The school used $14,580 of Māori Language funding [MLF] for the 23 students who are MLF funded. This was approved by the board of trustees because of the high level of cultural activities on the trip.
"The three siblings of whānau were not paid for by the school. They paid a higher amount than the whānau students and were subsidised by the fundraising which they were involved in accruing.
"Other schools intending to travel should be warned of the way fundraising monies are treated and reported on if put into school accounts."
The Mexico trip by Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu was also part of a long-standing connection with Mexican schools. The decile-3 kura's 241 students all learn Spanish as well as te reo Māori, and groups of students and teachers visit Mexico every three years.
The Audit Office said the January 2017 trip by 21 students and three staff "cost $105,425 more than expected, which the school funded by locally raised funds and other funds controlled by the board of trustees".
"The board of trustees also breached the law by failing to submit its audited financial statements to the Ministry of Education by May 31, 2018," the office said.
Altogether 430 of the country's 2444 state and integrated schools (17.5 per cent) failed to file their audited annual reports on time this year, up from 14 per cent last year.
Of these, 123 (5 per cent) were still outstanding when the Audit Office closed off its report on September 30 this year.
Almost a third of the schools (773) had not published their 2017 annual reports on their websites by the time they completed their 2018 audits, even though this has been required by law since 2017.
Other breaches of the law included 42 schools which borrowed more than they were allowed to, 10 which illegally lent money to staff, five which invested money in organisations without ministry approval and four with trustees who did not comply with rules about conflicts of interest.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said Clendon Park School and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu "have reviewed their financial policies and procedures and are currently in sound financial positions".
"The additional funds for Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu relate to an unforeseen and urgent request from the Board for the students, principal and teachers to return to New Zealand," she said.
"Under the circumstances this was the correct course of action and these unforeseen costs could not have been planned for."
She said that overall the Audit Office findings were "an improvement on previous years" and and "the vast majority of almost 2500 schools have met their obligations for producing audited accounts".
"We support the Auditor-General's decision to write to all school boards of trustees about their findings and to advise boards about key questions they should all be considering," she said.
"We have been working with the schools named in the audit report to resolve the issues raised."