Principal admits 'grey areas' over school spending
Auckland principal David Wallis has admitted to “grey areas” in his school’s spending, after revelations he received “wellbeing payments”.
But the Manurewa West School principal rejected criticisms in an auditor-general’s report released on Monday over foreign travel and other payments made to staff.
The report said Manurewa West School paid for five members of staff to visit Kuala Lumpur in 2016, as part of a trip to tour schools in Singapore, but no evidence of educational outcomes was presented to the board for this part of the trip.
It added that the school made additional payments to principal Wallis without getting permission from the Ministry of Education. The payments included home broadband and telephone bills, as well as “wellbeing payments” and a “revitalisation and refreshment sabbatical grant”.
On Tuesday Wallis said evidence of the Kuala Lumpur trip’s educational value had been presented and ignored. He said the trip was paid for through grants and fundraising.
And he said that contrary to the opinion of the school’s auditor, payments from the school to cover his home phone and internet bills were a practice that was “quite usual”.
“The reason I have that telephone is I deem it to be a work tool, and that’s an extension of the school,” he said.
“I’m principal of the school and I obviously have that overall responsibility, so I need to be contacted at any given time should there be an incident after hours.”
Asked whether the use of his home phone and internet mostly constituted personal use, Wallis said: “Without doubt there is certainly a range of uses, but if you don’t have it, then how can you be contactable?”
He said he received a $550 “wellbeing payment” following a difficult period between August and December last year, when the school lost some key administration staff.
While the school struggled to fill the positions, Wallis said he was left handling administrative duties, which sometimes meant he worked more than 70 hours a week.
“And as a consequence of that, I mentioned to the board of trustees in my reports to them that I was certainly incurring a lot of work stress because of the long hours and the extra work beyond my job description.”
The payments were a “token of appreciation” for his extra work, he said.
Meanwhile, he admitted his “revitalisation and refreshment sabbatical” to the Pacific was not accurately labelled by the board of trustees.
“That was probably, to be fair, a grey area that we would certainly recognise, and we would say that was probably a wrong wording,” he said.
It should instead have been labelled a “professional development grant”.
That grant was to support him visiting a school in Fiji that had been hit by cyclone Winston, delivering resources such as stationery and sports equipment, Wallis said.
The school had contacted the office of the auditor-general to express it was not satisfied with the process of its audit of accounts, and asked for a different auditor to be sent next time.
The auditor-general’s office confirmed on Tuesday it had been contacted to that effect.
Wallis said a meeting with the school’s auditor and the Ministry last week, areas for improvement in the school’s accounting were identified.
“It’s fair to say that the ministry are of the view that there are grey areas,” he said.
“The ministry did say there’s been nothing illegal or untoward in the matters of the school, because the school does have a clear and unqualified audit report.
“However, it was the view of the auditor and ministry that these areas that have been commented and noted, should be areas that the board should look into.”
The ministry has been contacted for comment.