Schools feel decile squeeze
By LANE NICHOLS - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Changes to school decile ratings have shaved millions off some schools' operating budgets - as many battle against deficits and look to parents to cover costs.

But two Wellington schools are fighting the funding cuts, arguing they are "too big a change, too quickly".

The primary teachers' union is calling for transitional funding for the hardest-hit schools and a detailed explanation of the decile system from the Education Ministry.

Wellington's Mt Cook School has written to Education Minister Steve Maharey after losing more than $50,000 - a sixth of its operating budget - when its decile rating jumped three points.

Decile ratings are reviewed every five years after each census and reflect the socio-economic make-up of a community.

The more children from low-income homes, the lower the decile - meaning more money for the school.

Mt Cook principal Sandra McCallum said pupils, including many immigrant refugees from poor families, were being penalised as the school would be forced to cut programmes and resources.

Newtown School has lost $40,000 - pushing it into deficit - and St Anne's School $60,000. St Anne's is negotiating with ministry officials.

Porirua's Aotea College has jumped from decile 3 to 5 and will lose $85,000 next year.

"It means we can't do what we're doing now without increasing fees and trying to generate more income somehow," principal Julia Davidson said.

"That could be from fees or extra costs to parents."

Figures issued by National Party education spokeswoman Katherine Rich show primary and composite schools whose decile ratings have gone up have lost about $8 million, and secondary schools about $2.5 million.

One in three schools would lose money next year because of the change.

"Parents are having to dig deeper into their pockets to keep schools afloat," she said "Ministry figures say schools accepted more than half a billion dollars in locally raised funds in 2006."

Mr Maharey said that, nationally, decile-related losses would virtually be offset by an increase in funding for 33 per cent of schools, whose decile ratings had dropped.

All schools would also receive a 4 per cent funding increase next year, signalled in the last Budget.

Forty per cent of primary schools and 50 per cent of secondary schools were in deficit last year, ministry figures show.

More than 70 per cent of schools have been in the red in the past three years.

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