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WaiCol back on the right track

The Ministry of Education has revoked the appointment of a Limited Statutory Manager for Wairarapa College’s board of trustees. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR

Wairarapa college board gets finances in check

Story by Tom Taylor

One of New Zealand’s oldest high schools is back on track after years of intervention by the Ministry of Education.

Ministry-appointed managers had overseen the Wairarapa College board of trustees for six years, from September 2015 until last month.

In a letter to the board, director of education for Wellington Roy Sye congratulated the school on its return to self-governance.

“This is a significant accomplishment for you and your board. There has been considerable work to do, and the board is to be complimented and congratulated on this achievement. I know moving back to self-governance has been a goal for all of you,” Sye said.

Principal Matt White said that in 2015, the school had been in significant trouble.

After mismanagement of their staffing allocations, WaiCol had fallen about $2 million into debt.

At that point, the Ministry of Education appointed a limited statutory manager to take charge of the board.

“The revocation of the limited statutory manager is the end of that intervention and is a sign that the college is in a good place to build and move forward,” White said.

“Hopefully, when the community is aware of the announcement, they will have confidence in the school, the staff, and the board of trustees. It’s taken a huge amount of work behind the scenes.”

White said that upgrades had been put on hold while the school repaid its debts.

Upgrades to the school, including a multipurpose sports turf, are now under way.

Now, it could progress with work on a new sports turf, Supported Learning Centre, food technology hub, and a revamp of its main block.

The school would also introduce significant changes to its curriculum, including a semester-based system for its junior school and much more flexibility in subject selection.

Board chairwoman and former WaiCol student Maria McKenzie said that the ministry had had serious concerns about the school’s finances, staffing, employment, and property.

“It’s only in the last month that the ministry have said that they are satisfied and that the board now has full control of the school,” McKenzie said.

In September 2015, in response to a request from the Board of Trustees for support, the MoE appointed Michael Rondel to the role of statutory manager.

Rondel took on responsibility for the school’s employment, finance, property, and communications, and advised the board on its management.

In December 2015, then Minister of Education Hekia Parata dissolved the board, appointing the college’s former principal John Carlyon as commissioner. Rondel also stayed on to focus on the school’s financial position.

In 2017, a new board was formed, with Helena Barwick taking on the role of statutory manager.

McKenzie, who started working with the board in 2015, became the board’s chairwoman, while Barwick was responsible for its financial operations and duties as an employer.

“It was a brand-new board, and that board has worked hard on ensuring that the finances are solid and stable,” McKenzie said.

On September 15, the ministry ended the intervention, and Barwick’s appointment ended.

McKenzie said that Matt White’s appointment as principal at the end of last year was a pivotal part of the school’s journey back to self-governance.

“There have been five different people sitting in the principal’s office over the last five years. What happens with that is there is a sense of instability. Now, there’s a solid person in that space who leads from the front, and the students have trust and confidence in him.”

McKenzie said that other than the leadership, WaiCol students would not have noticed much of the board’s work over the past six years.

“We decided to go slow to go right and make all the foundational decisions – you don’t see a lot of that work.”

However, she said that students would start to see significant changes in the school in the next couple of years.

“Culture is hard to change, and schools are like battleships. They’re very slow to change direction, but there’s a sense of belonging and engagement, which is what we’ve shifted, and [students] will start to feel that now.”

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