Sunday, June 28, 2009

Trust in the Top

That is the headline over an op-ed in today's Sunday Star Times by Chris Cherry, "a UK academic and writer living here..." and his "warning concerning the liabilities of trusting politicians.

He bases his article on the (now quiescent) volcano of the British MP Expenses raruraru, warning that "it could never happen in NZ" is a very short-sighted excuse for accepting the word of any politician.

The regretful part is, that in the probligo's part of the world he is preaching not to the converted but the cynical voter who trusts no one standing for elected office.

If he needs this explained at all, Cherry should take as just a small example the National government's reshaping of the Education vote.

On 28 May, the Herald published what was obviously a rehash of a Ministerial (I almost typed "Menstrual" - Freudian that is) post-Budget press release from Anne Tolley -
Cash-strapped, the Government has pushed most of its new investment in education toward increasing brain power, rather than bricks and mortar capital expenditure.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the Government was "strengthening the ladder of opportunity" by allocating $1.68 billion to improve front-line education over four years in today's budget.

The budget outlined $1.337b in new operational education spending over the next five years, more than four times the $340m in new capital spending.

Now don't that sound grand!
Among items "reprioritised":

* $54m, reducing the funding subsidy for hobby courses in adult community education;

* $20m, combining the Team Up and Te Mana information campaigns;

* $18m, reducing Education Ministry support function expenditure;

* $275m, keeping early childhood education adult-child ratios at current levels, rather than proceeding with a planned reduction;

* $55m, reductions in tertiary funding.

Labour could not fund these "even in the best economic times", Mrs Tolley said.

Education projects attracting Government money included:

* $80.1m more for day-to-day school operations;

* $36m to support literacy and numeracy;

* $16m to fight truancy;

* $34m to improve access of schools to high speed broadband;

* $59m to improve the education of disruptive students, and those with special needs and behavioral issues;

* $69.7m for improving access to early childhood education (ECE), by expanding 20 hours ECE to playcentres and kohanga reo, and removing the six-hour daily limit;

* $19.9m to extend the Te Kotahitanga programme, to focus on raising Maori students' achievement.

That is the broad outlay.

I want to tackle the first of those "re-prioritised" items, the "hobby courses in adult community education".

The Herald did too, on 29 May, with this -
Independent schools will receive their first Government funding injection in a decade the $35 million allowing them to keep their fees at a more affordable level for parents.

Executive director of the Independent Schools of New Zealand Deborah James said she was delighted with the announcement as private schools had been struggling with a "crippling capped funding regime for the past 10 years".

She felt it was important the Government had acknowledged that if it did not help them out, a number of private schools might have been forced to integrate, which would have ultimately lapped up a portion of state funding that could otherwise be diverted towards public schools.

"[Independent schools] bring a choice in education, not all schools suit all children so it's wonderful in a democracy that families can choose an education that best suits the needs of their child," Mrs James said.

Tony Sissons, headmaster of King's School, said the funding would greatly assist the school's parents as it would allow him to keep cost increases at a minimum.

"Independent schools bring the opportunity for choice and by maintaining fees at a lower rate it gives more people the opportunity for choice around the country," Mr Sissons said.

Now, we jump forward to Jun 7 -
Private schools are hiring debt collectors to chase unpaid fees as the recession bites.

Baycorp general manager Joe Nel said his agency had about 300 private and state schools on its books, slightly up on last year, with an average of $650 a debt.

Graeme Byers, managing director of Guardian Credit Service, is chasing about $40,000 worth of debt for 15 private schools on his books.

The debts range from a few hundred dollars for sports fees to $8000 for unpaid tuition fees.

Byers said the debtors were mainly "pretty honest people who have got themselves into problems".

But some are harder to find. "The people have gone over to Australia - they've actually skipped the country."

Lynda Reid, principal of St Cuthbert's College in Epsom, Auckland, said referring unpaid fees to debt collectors was "an absolute last resort."

"When we have exhausted every option, yes we do, like every other business, have to bring in a debt collector. We do it very reluctantly."

Ok, so some of the private schools' clients are not paying?
Reid said the school [St Cuthbert's] took the step only when parents had ended contact and ignored the school's requests to discuss the problem. In rare cases girls were asked to leave the school.

However, Reid said the school [still St Cuthbert's] introduced automatic payments as an option last year to ease the pressure of paying fees all at once. Fees at the school range from $13,408 to $15,900 a year.

I guess (fairly safely) that only those who can really afford to send their kids to a private school like St Cuth's (and that has a very high reputation) would commit themselves to a cost like that.

Let's jump forward now to Jun 20 - a month after the first of these articles appeared -
Like a covert network, adults converge on empty classrooms to extend themselves in all sorts of ways. When the kids roll in the next day, there's no trace of what's taken place.

They were at it at Mt Roskill Grammar and hundreds of other secondary schools this cold Wednesday night: learning Thai cuisine, dressmaking, car maintenance, touch typing, English as a second language, Mandarin Chinese and the art of texting.

The Government spin is that the rest of us are victims of some rort: "Taxpayers should not be funding hobby and recreational courses like twilight golf, radio singalong, pet homeopathy, Moroccan cooking and concrete mosaics," says Education Minister Anne Tolley.

Even night school co-ordinators concede that many courses are more social in nature than stepping stones to a job or a pay rise.

And so the Budget announcement slashing funding for school-based night classes by 80 per cent - from $16 million to $3.2 million - failed initially to spark community revolt. "All sectors of the economy are affected by the economic situation and tertiary education is no exception," Tolley told the adult and community education sector group, ACE Aotearoa.

Obviously, Tolley would not have added "and the poor rich buggers who send their daughters to St Cuth's".
That's the thing about night school. It caters for the spectrum of interests from the self-indulgence of children's party planning and Spanish classes to vocational courses such as accounting and touch typing. Even at mosaics, jewellery and floral art classes, the career-minded mingle with the purists.

Yes, an indulgence indeed.


I return to the opening, the Curry article. He has missed the boat. It left about 25 or 30 years ago. Politicians in NZ are no different to those in UK, or Australia, Or the US. They have only one motive, and I don't need to spell it out once again.

Go back, check the numbers...

"Hobby" classes, reduction $54 million

Private schools subsidy, increase $35 million.

Trust politicians?


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