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Back to school and out of pocket

Many families are facing increased back-to-school costs while they are already struggling with spiralling general expenses.

Masterton solo father of seven Reon Te Maari Kerr, who has two teenagers living at home, is no stranger to the costs associated with sending children to school.

Te Maari Kerr said that over the years he has saved money ahead of time to cover school expenses.

“Put in a bit of overtime or be prepared for it, because you know that it’s coming.”

He said the financial burden is more about the uniforms rather than the school stationery.

“I have had to get three at one time. That is up over a couple of grand.”

Although there are no costs at the Kura Kaupapa Māori his daughter attends, his other daughter at Chanel College has school fees, and uniform and stationery costs.

“It’s about $1100 a year. That could hurt some parents,” Te Maari Kerr said.

“People keep to themselves too; they don’t want to tell people they are struggling.”

For example, the price of a junior girls’ uniform for years seven to 10 attending Masterton Chanel College totals $868 for three long and short sleeved shirts, two summer and winter skirts, one jumper, one tie, one cap, and a scarf, while the PE uniform is more than $400.

Meanwhile, the college’s stationery list is estimated at $100, not including a school bag and additional necessities. The uniform costs stationary costs alone come to a combined total of about $1500, which increases with a laptop, iPad, and school fees.

Uniform costs for other schools in Wairarapa range from between $330-500 for primary schools to more than $1100 for college senior uniforms [excluding shoes].

Lakeview Primary School principal Tim Nelson, who comes from a family of 12 brothers and sisters, was once the last kid in the class to get stationery.

“It wasn’t through any fault of my parents, but it was humiliating,” Nelson said.

In contrast to Nelson’s upbringing, for the second year running every child at Lakeview Primary has stationery from day one, he said.

“Our children don’t have that anxiety, it’s there ready for them.

“Families are incredibly appreciative.”

Nelson, who is also a Masterton district councillor, said it is a non-discriminant approach to help children from a wide range of backgrounds.

“Living costs are out of freaking control in this country,” he said.

Although Lakeview’s initiative is not specifically government-funded, all schools get an operation grant to run their schools.

Nelson said the Lakeview Board of Trustees use the money to take pressure off families to give them a positive start to the year.

Although Nelson acknowledges uniforms are expensive, he supports their use as a social equalizer.

To keep costs down, the school has one uniform for all seasons and negotiates with NZ Uniforms for a fair price.

Nelson said parents also donate second-hand uniforms that Lakeview can give to new families who need them.

Kids Can is also “absolutely fantastic” and funds quality softshell jackets and shoes, while WINZ is helpful with expenses, he said.

Ministry of Social Development [MSD] manager Graham Allpress said school costs such as uniforms can be a burden.

However, all low-income parents and caregivers with minimal money or assets can apply for hardship help, often paid back on a customisable plan.

The agency can also advise on strategies to minimise school uniform costs, such as looking at second-hand options with clients and linking them up to budgeting services.

One service that MSD funds is REAP Wairarapa, which has sites in Masterton, Martinborough, and Featherston.

Recent data from MSD revealed that hardship assistance for educational costs across New Zealand came to $20,706,840 between March 2022 to March 2023.

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