Hundreds of beginner teachers in low-decile Auckland schools have missed out on an incentive that could have wiped $17,500 off their student loans, because the incentive has not been promoted.
The primary teachers' union NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) says the majority of Auckland principals contacted by the union this month did not know about the incentive, and are "furious" that their teachers have missed out.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart said it was "bizarre that while there is so much publicity about the teacher supply crisis, the Government has kept quiet about a major tool for helping to address it".
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The voluntary bonding incentive pays beginner teachers $3500 a year for up to five years if they teach in a decile 1 or isolated school for at least their first three years after graduation. Teachers of hard-to-staff subjects such as maths and te reo Māori were also eligible until 2013.
Former Education Minister Anne Tolley said when the incentive was launched in 2009 that "close to 1800 teachers may be eligible this year".
But the current minister Nikki Kaye has told Labour MP Chris Hipkins in written parliamentary answers that only 283 beginner teachers received the incentive payment in 2012, and that number has dwindled in every year since then to 131 last year and only 59 so far this year.
Tolley budgeted $19 million for the incentive for the first three years. But spending peaked at only $2.7 million in 2012 and fell to $1.2 million in 2013, $1 million in 2014 and $560,000 in 2015. Spending figures since then have not been provided.
Stuart, who is principal of May Rd Primary in Mt Roskill, said she was not told about the incentive when May Rd's decile rating dropped to decile 1 after the 2013 Census.
"We found out about it two weeks ago because our [NZEI] field officer rang me and said, 'Did you realise your school is on this list?'" she said.
She said the field officer came across the incentive on the Teach NZ website and rang around some of the 340 eligible schools, which include 74 in Auckland.
"We only found one or possibly two principals who knew anything about it," she said.
She said the Government should pay eligible teachers retrospectively if they were not aware of it, and should extend the incentive to all Auckland schools.
Karen McMurray, who has been principal of decile 1 Randwick Park School in Manurewa since the school opened 21 years ago, said she heard about the incentive when it was announced but was never notified of the details.
"I went, 'Ah, yeah, I'll see about it officially at some stage.' Then it went quiet," she said.
"Then about four or five years later a teacher came to me and mentioned it. She had done all the research herself. She got it."
But another teacher missed out because beginner teachers have to apply for the incentive within 12 months of completing at least three years' service in an eligible school.
"One of my team leaders missed out by something like three months because that's when she became aware of it," McMurray said.
"It's just unfair and unfortunate that some people got it and some didn't."
Kaye said retrospective payments to eligible teachers who missed out were "not likely", but she will ask the Education Ministry to "consider how the scheme might better respond to current supply pressures".
She was "very open" to extending the incentive to all Auckland schools and to hard-to-staff subjects such as te reo.
"From my perspective, we are going to expand it to other parts of New Zealand," Kaye said. "I can see that it will likely cost a bit more money."
Teacher's unexpected wedding present
Newly married teacher Adam Tamariki received an unexpected wedding present this month when he found out he was eligible for a voluntary bonding incentive of up to $17,500.
Tamariki, 32, a third-year teacher at decile 1 Roscommon School in Manurewa, married his wife Eseta in May.
Two weeks ago he heard from his union, the NZ Educational Institute, that he would become eligible at the end of this year for the incentive, which pays $3500 a year for up to five years to beginner teachers who teach in decile 1 or isolated schools for at least three years.
"I was like, 'Oh, wow!'" he said.
"For me, to be honest, it has to go to my student loan. That would be a huge difference for me to bring that amount down and be able to save that money towards a house.
"I just got married and that's what we are saving for now."
Tamariki gave up "a really good paying job" as manager of the Rebel Sports store in Manukau when he was 26 to retrain as a primary teacher at Auckland University.
"I just felt I always wanted to do teaching and always wanted to work with kids," he said.
He is now teaching Year 6 children in the suburb where he grew up, Manurewa.
"It's cool to be amongst a place where I grew up," he sai8d. "It's kind of like I'm teaching what I used to be like, I can understand them."
He and Eseta, a trainee nurse, are boarding with friends in Manurewa and he is still paying off a $21,000 student loan.
Roscommon principal Sonia Johnston said she was aware of the voluntary bonding incentive and had helped other teachers to get it.
"I'm a bit surprised that Adam was not aware of it. It made us think that somewhere along the line that's been missed," she said.
She said she had not used the incentive to recruit beginner teachers but she would consider using it in the future.