Key Points:

Education Minister Chris Carter says he is disappointed some schools are boycotting the Schools Plus initiative, saying they will have to implement it in the end anyway.

Fifteen North Shore principals - including those from Rangitoto College (the country's largest school), Takapuna Grammar and Northcote College - said yesterday they would not engage in the initiative until the "dire" funding situation was recognised.

Mr Carter said School Plus was currently costing the schools nothing as the Government was still consulting on the policy and he was disappointed they did not wish to take part.

The Government had said any extra cost imposed on the schools would be funded with new money.

"We have to work through what extra the schools need to carry out the programme, which everyone agrees is great."

Mr Carter said he did not believe the boycott would undermine the policy as there were many other schools taking part.

The schools would have to implement the policy once came into force.

"Schools are legally required to fulfil the National Education Guidelines, but they don't have to participate in the consultation process," he said.

In an open letter to Mr Carter, the principals detailed Government innovations they claimed were not fully funded and had increased pressure on already-stretched finances.

The list of 21 included pandemic planning, maintaining electronic student management systems and running the healthy lifestyle programme Mission On.

"We respectfully suggest you provide for the current demands before introducing new and more underfunded priorities," the principals wrote.

They said more and more schools nationally were operating budget deficits.

"We are deeply concerned about the future of New Zealand's schools," the principals' letter read.

"We do not concur with your statements that current funding is enough to provide a quality basic education."

Northcote College principal Vicki Barrie said in a separate email: "Schools will not engage in the Government's new Schools Plus initiative until the minister has recognised the dire funding situation secondary schools find themselves in."

Schools Plus is a major initiative that aims to keep New Zealanders in education or training until age 18.

It was outlined by Prime Minister Helen Clark in her opening address to Parliament this year, as part of a "quantum leap" in changing the aspirations for young people.

A two-month public consultation phase ended last month and an independent researcher is now analysing 500 written submissions and additional feedback received by the Ministry of Education.

Details of exactly how Schools Plus will work - including how it will be funded - are not expected until after the report is completed.

The annual costs once fully operational were estimated to be about $170 million.

In April, Mr Carter assured the Post Primary Teachers Association conference that the Government would provide extra resourcing to implement Schools Plus and was committed to resourcing it properly.

Mr Carter has repeatedly defended the level of funding to schools and has said that education spending overall has risen from $5.7 billion to $9.8 billion since 1999.

This year's Budget included a 5 per cent - or $171.6 million - increase over the four years for schools' operations funding, including $65.3 million to help meet new technology costs.

Mr Carter said at the time it was the biggest rise since 2001 and followed increases in each of the past two years.

Secondary Principals Association president Peter Gall said members were anxious about the implications of Schools Plus because they had heard little about the detail.

"There's a fear that there's all this work going on and all of a sudden schools are going to be lumped with another whole set of compliances," said Mr Gall.

"Another whole set of work to do, another new Government initiative - and you know, we've got Government initiatives coming out of our ears."

The North Shore Principals Association, which penned the letter, expanded to 15 schools from the 10 that last month made public an analysis of their funding that suggested 51 per cent on average was raised from community sources, such as family donations and fundraising.

A meeting with Mr Carter scheduled last month was cancelled because Parliament was in urgency.

Mr Gall said the group's stance was not surprising in light of its ongoing attempts to discuss the issue with officials.

He said the Secondary Principals Association was due to meet Mr Carter this month and was likely to raise the issue.

* THEY SAID

We need change in education and a quantum leap in the aspirations we have for our young people. Our programme of action will be called Schools Plus.

- Prime Minister Helen Clark in February 2008

North Shore principals will not engage in the Government's new School Plus initiative until the minister has recognised the dire funding situation secondary schools find themselves in.

- With NZPA

- Northcote College head Vickie Barrie yesterday