Principals and Boards of Trustees sit down at about this time every year and decide how they will staff their schools for the next year.

They do not have to find money for teacher salaries. These are centrally funded, but they do have to juggle the cost of support staff – teacher aides, administration staff, IT staff and technicians – and balance this with other pressures on school funds such as electricity bills. This is because support staff salaries are bulk-funded through the operations grant which also funds other fixed costs and non-teaching resources.

Look and learn

It puts support staff in an unenviable position – not knowing whether they will have the same amount of hours the next year, or whether they will have a job at all. Many are still paid just above the minimum wage.

So it’s a case of look and learn. This is what could happen again in our schools with the government’s proposal for a global budget. All salaries would be traded off for other resources a school needs. As a result, class sizes would increase and the curriculum would be narrowed.

It’s not just the unions that are opposed to this idea. The Education Council has said it does not “want the changes to result in resources moving away from qualified teachers because we know that quality teaching makes the biggest positive impact on lifting the achievement of students.”

Principal groups are also against the global budget proposal.

Principals Federation president Iain Taylor said the federation opposed the global budget proposal because it removed guarantees around the minimum number of teachers each school would have.

No merit

More and more groups are opposing the proposal. This is because the idea has no merit.

Boards would have to make trade-offs between the number of teachers they employ and other non-teaching costs. Effectively the Government could wash its hands of the decision-making and Boards (the parents of these children) would have to make the hard decisions about how many qualified teachers they employ and how many children are in each class.

The new global budget proposal is bulk-funding dressed up in different clothes. Teacher salaries were bulk-funded in the 1990’s before being abandoned as government policy. The 1990’s version was based on a school’s entitlement teacher staffing levels. The global budget proposal is worse. It would provide each school with a “lump sum” based on a per student rate delivered as cash and “credits” for staffing. The school would decide how much of the total funding was to be put aside for the employment of all staff, including teachers. What was left would have to cover the general running of the school including non-teaching resources.

However, most principals say they don’t want this trade-off. Schools can already employ other professionals from their operations grants. The reason they don’t more often is not because they have too many teachers, but because the grant is under-funded.

Greater risk

The “global budget” creates much greater financial complexity and therefore greater risk to schools from poor financial decisions. At present if a Board is in financial strife the teaching staff are secure and class sizes and curriculum breadth can be maintained.

Base funding will be removed, making a bigger proportion of school funding dependent on student numbers and creating more pressure to compete for students.

The National Executives of NZEI and the PPTA are holding joint paid union meetings in September so that members of both organisations can be informed about the detail of the proposals and together vote on the next steps to be taken. The unions have never joined together on such a scale before – such is the importance of the issue.

When the funding review was first announced, Prime Minister John Key said the discussions were very preliminary and a new funding system “wouldn’t be progressed unless the unions and other stakeholders were on board”. With this review, we have an opportunity to get better funding for education and to tell the Prime Minister that the bulk funding “global budget” is going in the wrong direction.

We want to get it right – for our schools, centres and for our children’s learning.