A tiny East Coast school sent three staff on a trip to Canada which included a visit to Disneyland, the latest Audit Office report reveals.
The office's annual audit of schools says Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mangatuna, a school of 35 students north of Tolaga Bay, spent $36,200 on overseas travel in 2017.
It says "$18,077 was spent on a professional development trip to Calgary for three
staff members and $18,133 on further travel through the United States, which
included visiting Disneyland and other resorts".
"The board should not use school funds for travel that does not have a clear educational purpose," the office said.
The report also lists alleged accounting breaches at other schools including another overseas trip by Taumarunui High School, potential conflicts of interest at Auckland's Sacred Heart College and payments made to the previous sponsor of two charter schools.
But Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mangatuna principal Tania Hunter said her kura actually raised $67,000 from its community for the trip to Canada and Disneyland, which more than covered the $36,200 cost of the trip.
"My school came away with surplus money. It's still in the school," she said.
She said she, another teacher and a kaiāwhina (helper) went to Canada to attend the 11th World Indigenous People's Conference on Education in Toronto, and did not visit Calgary as the audit report claimed.
They presented a workshop on the use of poi in a localised indigenous curriculum.
"We also sent students to a previous conference in Oahu, Hawaii, seven or eight years ago," she said.
She said the visit to Disneyland and other places in the United States came in the week before the conference, which was the last week of the July school holidays in 2017.
"That was a one-week holiday," she said.
She felt justified in using the money raised from the community because she and the other two people who went on the trip did much of the fundraising themselves.
"The three people that went, we catered at the local marae for a three-day conference, we worked from 4am to 10pm, three meals and morning teas. That was $3000 being paid to the school, but it was being put aside for our trip," she said.
"We fundraise like Trojans from external funding literally all year round."
The Audit Office said Taumarunui High School spent $60,475 on two trips in 2017.
"The principal travelled to Europe to market the school to overseas students, and to the United States to learn about Big Picture learning. Both of these trips were consistent with the school's strategy," it said.
"However, the school was unable to provide sufficient evidence for $10,904 of the expenditure incurred by the principal. The amounts spent were also significantly higher than was formally approved by the board."
The school's roll of 248 included six overseas students in 2017, seven in 2018, four in 2019 and none this year because of Covid.
"Big Picture Learning", introduced for Years 11 to 13 at the start of 2018, was described in a NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) report in August 2018 as "learning tailored to individual needs".
"Instead of traditional timetabled courses, each student is assigned an adviser who they work with to identify interests and personalise learning," the report said.
The NZQA report expressed concern that the new system did not track each year level's academic progress closely enough, and recommended "closer tracking".
The Audit Office report said Sacred Heart College in Glendowie had members of its board of trustees who also sat on the boards of the school's owner, Sacred Heart College Ltd, or the Sacred Heart College Development Foundation, and that the foundation contributed to the principal's remuneration.
"This gives rise to potential conflicts of interest," the Audit Office said.
"The 2017 audit report also notes that the school should not pay for hospitality to further relationships between the foundation and former students of the school.
"Although the foundation is related to the school, it is a private entity that the board does not control. It is not clear whether the school would benefit from the expenditure."
Board deputy chair Brendan Gibson said "new processes have addressed the concerns raised by the Auditor General's report and we are confident that the college meets its compliance obligations".
The Audit Office also said it "could not obtain sufficient evidence to confirm the validity of a payment of about $467,000 for a management fee" from two former charter schools, Middle School West Auckland and South Auckland Middle School, to their sponsoring agency, Villa Education Trust.
Villa Education Trust chief executive Karen Poole said the trust worked with a facilitator appointed by the Ministry of Education throughout the process of transitioning the two charter schools to become special-character state schools from January 2019.