The Auditor-General has highlighted school spending including overseas travel, a $7000 staff party and gifts for principals including a ride-on mower and "wellbeing" payments.

Another school did not pass on $3700 collected specifically for Fiji flood victims.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today said she had not seen the report, but the spending as described sounded "hugely surprising".

"I would find that hugely surprising given the environment our schools are operating in. And particularly parents who are paying donations I think would also be surprised by that kind of spending," Ardern said during her weekly post-Cabinet press conference.

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"Unless that ride-on lawnmower was given to him so he could chop the fields of that school, I would be very surprised by that. It's not something I have been briefed on."

The Ministry of Education told Newstalk ZB it will follow up with the Blockhouse Bay Intermediate Board of Trustees to make sure they understand what has happened at the school.

Concern surrounded $7000 spent on a farewell party and $3000 on a leaving gift for the principal.

The report also found the school didn't pass on $3700 that it collected specifically for Fiji flood victims - instead using the money for school purposes.

The Ministry said any action it takes will depend on what it finds after speaking to the board. Blockhouse Bay's board of trustees chairman Russell Matthews could not be reached for comment tonight.

Report reverberations

The Office of the Auditor-General today published the results of the 2016 school audits, and provided the same information to the Secretary for Education.

Overseas travel for school staff was one area of spending flagged. Photo / Grant Bradley
Overseas travel for school staff was one area of spending flagged. Photo / Grant Bradley

The vast majority of schools received standard audit reports, although 29 were judged to have serious financial difficulties, including Wanganui Collegiate School, St Patrick's College Silverstream and Waiheke Primary School.

The Office of the Auditor-General's auditors also learned about several "relatively small" incidents of fraud where schools decided not to tell relevant enforcement agencies.

"In these instances, the employee paid back the amounts in question, and the school dismissed the employee. However, we are aware that some of these employees then moved to other schools."

Today's report highlights spending activity at some schools.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Hoani Waititi Marae sent 251 students, staff and caregivers to Rarotonga. After fundraising and family contributions, the school funded the shortfall of nearly $250,000, which contributed to its deficit.

Manurewa West School paid for five staff to visit Kuala Lumpur in 2016 as part of a tour of schools in Singapore, and no evidence of educational outcomes was presented to the board for this part of the trip.

The same school made additional payments to its principal, without getting the required approval from the Ministry of Education. These included home broadband and telephone, "wellbeing payments", and a "revitalisation and refreshment sabbatical grant".

Blockhouse Bay Intermediate in 2016 spent $7000 on a farewell party and a $3000 leaving gift for the principal, exceeding the $1000 expenditure approved by the board.

The same year, the school did not pass on $3700 collected specifically for Fiji flood victims, instead using the money for school purposes.

Blockhouse Bay Intermediate was one of several schools that gave farewell gifts the Auditor-General deemed excessive, saying spending on such occasions should be "moderate and conservative".

Another was Kingsford School in Mangere, which last year gave its principal Rex Buckley $10,000 worth of vouchers as a leaving gift.

Board of trustees chairwoman Helen TePania said the decile 1 school had been "smacked on the wrist" by the Auditor-General over the gift.

"When Rex first started we had no reserves, so if you wanted a new programme you had to wheedle and deedle, move things around. But when he left, we had over half a million [dollars] in reserve," she said.

"If we want a new programme, the money's available. We're starting to introduce Chromebooks because we can afford it, even though we can't ask the parents."

TePania said the school is "very careful with money".

"We knew it was a lot of money but he was a well-loved principal and had done so much for our school," she said.

The same year Puhinui School board gave its principal an $8500 ride-on mower as a leaving gift. Kevin Hornby had led the school for about 30 years.

Puhinui's board of trustees chairman Les Waimotu declined to comment to the Herald before speaking with the current principal.

Noting a large number of settlement payments by schools, the Office of the Auditor-General has recommended the Ministry of Education improve its guidance on the giving of gifts and settlement processes.

Audit reports for Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Kura Kokiri for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 are still outstanding, the Office of the Auditor-General noted.

In 2012 the office found inadequate documentation around the payment of expenses, unusually high levels of fuel expenses, food and groceries and koha payments, and repairs and maintenance paid on cars not owned by the school. Sky TV subscriptions were also paid for by the school.

The Office of the Auditor-General also drew attention to financial difficulties in the audit reports of 29 schools for 2016.

Schools with financial worries

• Bainesse School
• Cambridge East School
• Golden Bay High School
• Herekino School
• Kaitaia Abundant Life School
• Kia Aroha College
• Mangamuka School
• Melville Intermediate
• Ngaruawahia High School
• Papatawa School
• Pukepoto School
• Rangiriri School
• Rathkeale College
• Solway School
• St Joseph's Catholic School (Matata)
• St Joseph's School (Grey Lynn)
• St Matthew's Collegiate
• St Patrick's College Silverstream
• Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Nga Mokopuna
• Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Ngati Rangi School
• Te Kura O Ratana
• View Road School
• Waiheke Primary School
• Waipahihi School
• Wairarapa College
• Wairau Intermediate School
• Waitara Central School
• Wanganui Collegiate School
• Waverley Primary School