Bay of Plenty Times
By: Sandra Conchie and Scott Yeoman
A Tauranga school struggling under increasing financial pressure says the funding model meant to help with high-needs students is "broken".
Greerton Village School principal Anne Mackintosh and Board of Trustees chairwoman Desiree Burborough told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend the school would have to "top up" a funding shortfall of $118,482.26 this year.
The money would have to come from the school board's operational grant, the pair said.
The Ministry of Education provides Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding for the school's 24 special and high-needs students to help pay for teacher aides whose support is decided on a child's learning needs.
However, "the hours of support have to be increased over and above what is granted due to their extreme needs and health and safety issues", Burborough said.
The school has 24 ORS-funded students, 10 more than 2016, and at least five other students have "challenging behavioural needs". More high-needs students were expected to join the school before 2019, Mackintosh said.
"This adds additional pressure while we strive to do the best we can."
The school has 21 externally funded teacher aides working with the children with significant needs. It also employs other teacher aides (two fulltime equivalents) who are funded by the board.
In November, the school received a discretionary lump sum grant of $10,000 after a Ministry of Education official visited. While they were grateful, Mackintosh said "it was a mere drop in the ocean".
She said ORS funding levels had remained the same for years "yet teacher aide wages have risen". Mackintosh said there was a difference between the hourly rate used to calculate ministry funding and what Greerton Village School was paying teacher aides.
Schools employ teacher aides and decide their hourly rate but the ministry contributes towards that.
While invited to apply for further funding by upgrading some ORS-funded students to ''very high'' needs status, she said that was an "arduous" and time-consuming" process.
Mackintosh and Burborough described the current funding model as broken and inadequate and met with the ministry to discuss it.
The "million-dollar question" was what the school would do if it failed to get extra funding. It could not legally turn away any child living in its school zone.
Business consultant and parent Erika Harvey, whose autistic daughter Piper, 7, attends the school, was asked to investigate and later sent an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calling for a taskforce to be set up to solve the problem. She also launched a petition.
Harvey said helping special and high-needs students, including Piper, to become inclusive members of the school had put "intense" pressure on the school's finances.
"Piper at 5 was still in nappies, had violent outbursts, couldn't communicate, and she was not only a danger to herself but other students and teachers as well," Harvey said.
This was no longer the case, she said.
"My once angry, non-verbal child can be found each morning on the school radio, singing songs in assembly, and participating in other activities including the kapa haka group."
Harvey believed the school had become a victim of its own success, with families moving into the area to send their children there.
Western Bay of Plenty Principal Association vice-president Matt Simeon said, apart from Tauranga Special School, 24 ORS funded students at one school was an "incredibly high" number.
"I know of a few schools that have eight, 10 or maybe 12, but 24 would compound the problem, especially given the minimum wage for teacher aides has risen to $16.50 an hour," he said.
The ministry's Katrina Casey said it was working with the school to get its finances back on track and would continue to support it.
"As part of this process we will be looking into the amount of funding the school is receiving in relation to its ORS students and ensuring it is accurate."
She said schools varied greatly in the number of ORS-verified students, but Greerton Village had a "relatively high number" for a primary school of its size.
Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said the Greerton Village School community was not alone in being under ORS-funding financial pressure.
"We've inherited a problem with ORS funding, and with funding for those children who don't meet the strict ORS criteria," she said.
"I'm working with Education Minister Chris Hipkins to see if we can get extra funding for this in the budget."
Funding - by the numbersFor Term 1 of 2018, Ministry of Education records showed Greerton Village School would receive more than $73,000 in teacher aide funding across several initiatives.
Those included: In-class support ($4600), behaviour service ($2000), school high health needs fund ($4800), language learning initiative ($400) and ORS ($62,000).
Greerton Village School received 2.9 full-time equivalents of additional teacher time for their students who are verified into the ORS, the ministry said.
The school received $28,900 of Special Education Grant funding in 2018, which is delivered in its operations grant and is being used to help top up the ORS funding.
Greerton Village School accesses specialist supports from the local Ministry of Education Learning Support (speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, education psychology, special education advisers).
I didn’t expect to be here. To be honest, I don’t think any mother expects to join the club I’ve found myself in.
You see, I was just like you once. I was at the top of my career, eagerly awaiting my scans to know everything was okay with the miracle I had growing inside of me.
I remember the first time I felt my baby move. I’d lie awake at night imagining the fun we’d have together. At this stage of my pregnancy, I was just like everyone else.
Piper came into the world unexpectedly on January 1, 2011. Before we knew it, she was almost 2 years old.
Suddenly she stopped copying words, couldn't grip a spoon, and started crawling instead of walking. It's a feeling you can't describe when your gorgeous, perfect child goes from hitting all their milestones to hitting themselves and others, letting out ear-piercing screams for no apparent reason.
People stare and make snide comments, assuming you are a bad parent. The close friends slowly disappear, and your antenatal group no longer invites you to play dates. Your whole life slowly starts to fall to pieces and you’re left wondering how you got here.
After a long battle, Piper was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. At 5 years old, she was still in nappies, had violent outbursts, would strip all her clothes off when she became overwhelmed, was a flight risk, couldn’t communicate, and was not only a danger to herself, but other students and teachers as well.
We were lucky to receive high ORS (Ongoing Resource Scheme) funding, but people who had never met her only allocated 10 hours of school support a week. How could she self-manage the remaining 20 hours of the 30-hour school week? We sought a review countless times, but were denied.
Eventually, I was forced to leave the fulltime career I had worked so hard to achieve due to the lack of support from the government. This had serious financial implications for us.
However, I’m not writing just to talk about my family; we are only one of the many families in New Zealand on this journey.
I’m writing because we need help. My daughter's mainstream school is facing huge financial pressure due to the current funding model.
They have 24 ORS funded students and follow their legal obligation of providing an inclusive education to all children, never closing their doors to a child with special needs. This has left them with a deficit this year of $118,482.26.
Here's how. A school receives $18.47 per hour for an ORS funded student before the deduction of GST, holiday pay, sick leave and ACC, leaving $15.90 as the actual per-hour cost.
The average teacher aide (TA) wage at my daughters’ school is $19.47, due to the specialist skills some students require. This difference of $3.57 per hour for a large team of TAs paid over 45 weeks of the year works out to a deficit of $118,482.26 this year alone.
It seems that the schools who follow the law of inclusion are punished by being unable to meet their financial obligations. Yet schools who resort to managing these high-need, ‘expensive’ children by excluding them for disruptive behaviour are rewarded. The system is broken.
My daughter is an example of how drastically a child can improve when fully supported by an inclusive education system.
My once angry, non-verbal child no longer takes her clothes off in public, and can be found each morning on the school radio or singing songs at assembly. She is obsessed with Māori culture, participates in kapa haka and has recently joined the school's singing group.
All children deserve the same right to flourish.
I know there isn't a golden bullet to solve this, but if we continue to do the same thing and expect a different result, then we are mad.
I’d love to see a taskforce established that includes representatives from finance, principals from significantly affected schools such as the one mentioned above, teacher aides and a couple of parents like myself.
As a business consultant, I’m used to looking for new models to solve old problems and I’d be willing to work with you and others to get the job done!
Erika Harvey - Piper's mum
The full version of this letter can be read here. Erika Harvey ispetitioning Government to fully fund inclusive education - read more and sign here.
‘Every child in New Zealand deserves the support they need so that they can succeed in education,’ said Labour during the election campaign. Now it’s time to back up those words with real funding for children with autism and other special needs, writes Erika Harvey.
I didn’t expect to be here. To be honest, I don’t think any mother expects to join this club that I’ve found myself in. You see, I was just like you once. I was at the top of my career eagerly awaiting my scans to know everything was okay with the miracle I had growing inside of me. I remember that first feeling when she moved and how I’d lie awake at night imagining the fun we’d have together. The family adventures we’d go on, the friends she’d make, answering all those silly questions kids have about life. When I was six months pregnant I saw a child screaming and hitting his mother while I was out shopping. The mother spoke calmly and asked if he wanted to leave. I couldn’t believe she didn’t even discipline him for acting like that! I knew I’d never be a bad parent like her, when my child was born.
At that stage of my pregnancy, I was just like everyone else. Piper came in to the world unexpectedly with my water breaking on 1/1/11 and before we knew it, she was almost two years old. Suddenly, as if someone flipped a switch, she became lost inside herself. She stopped copying words, could no longer grip a spoon, and started crawling instead of walking. It’s a feeling you can’t describe when your gorgeous, perfect child goes from hitting all their milestones to hitting themselves and others. When you try and catch their head before they slam it against a concrete floor while expressing ear piercing screams of pain for hours, for what seems like no reason at all.
People stare and make snide comments behind your back, assuming you just have a brat as a kid and you’re a bad parent. The close friends you have slowly disappear, and your antenatal group no longer invites you to play dates. Not because they don’t want to, but because your child is constantly unsettled and it’s probably easier for you that way. Your whole life slowly starts to fall to pieces and you’re left wondering how you even got here.
The hardest part of motherhood, though, was when I officially received Piper’s diagnosis of autism. We immersed ourselves in education unlearning everything about parenthood we knew. We enrolled in various workshops and met others who were on their own journey through the spectrum. But no one could prepare us for what would happen once our daughter turned five and we needed to think about where to send her to school. At five years old Piper was still in nappies, had violent outbursts, would strip all her clothes off when she became overwhelmed, was a flight risk, couldn’t communicate, and was not only a danger to herself but to other students and teachers as well.
We were extremely lucky to receive high ORS (Ongoing Resource Scheme) funding, but people who had never met her only allocated 10 hours of support a week. This was inadequate for Piper and the school, given there are 30 hours in a school week. She couldn’t self-manage the other 20 hours. The school had try and find funds to make up the difference when my daughter first started, due to the severity of her needs.
We sought a review of our ORS countless times but were denied. Eventually, I was forced to leave the career I worked so hard to achieve. The financial implications for our household have been drastic. With only 10 hours of support for Piper, and no after school or holiday programmes in Tauranga for children with special needs, it was impossible for me to continue my career full-time.
A million questions go through your head when you find out you’ve moved into the special needs parent club. You try to figure out how it happened, only to realise it doesn’t matter because you can’t change the past. The only thing you can do is focus on the future, and that is why I’m writing you today.
Since April is Autism Awareness month, I wanted to explain what life is like when you become a parent to a child with autism. Most of all, though, I wanted to talk to you, Jacinda, mother to mother – so you can put yourself in our shoes as you eagerly await the birth of your first child. Truth is, there are 65,000 Kiwis on the autistic spectrum and more being diagnosed every day, and with estimates that 1 in 4 students need some sort of support in school, the chances of experiencing this firsthand are pretty high.
I’ve seen some massive flaws in the system that should be addressed, not just for children with autism but for any child that needs additional support. I understand how impossible it must be to try and splice limited funds in such a way to please every needy group, however children were a central focus to your election campaign, as they should be for every voting New Zealander. I’m tired of the blame game between a National led government and a Labour led government, only to find our pleas for help become a publicity stunt with the children of New Zealand paying the price.
We must unite, to bring material change to life in a way that will matter.
“Only a Labour Government can deliver the resources that schools and parents are crying out for and we plan to invest an additional $4B in education.” [link]
“I say there are clear signs of a government that has its priorities all wrong. Labour will redirect funding to frontline staff working directly with schools and children. Every child in New Zealand deserves to get the support they need so that they can succeed in education. They aren’t getting it under National, they will get it under Labour.” [link]
“Re-carving the same size pie amongst a growing number of needy kids will simply result in more going hungry. It’s time the National government woke up to the damage their underfunding is doing to kids’ lives and futures.” [link]
“Our goal is to uncap the ORS funding and make sure that every child in our schooling system has a right to learning support that they need and that schools are supported properly, and that those who work in our schools as teacher aides are supported and funded properly and actually have pay equity within the system they are working in.” [link]
If schools have a legal obligation to create a truly inclusive education system, what funding model is required to achieve the dream?
As a business consultant, I learned that the school my daughter attends is under huge financial duress due to the current model. It is a Decile 2 school, with a roll of 390 students from over 12 different cultural backgrounds; its catchment experiences a wide range of socio-economic disparity. It also has arguably one of the highest number (24) of ORS-funded special education students in a mainstreamed school, in addition to High Health, RTLB and special education and behavioral support requirements etc. The school’s success in assisting their ORS-funded students (to which they refer to as their ‘treasures’ because they have added so much joy to their school) is actually sinking them! Their deficit this year is $118,482 but they continue to follow their legal obligation of providing an inclusive education to all children, never closing their doors to a child with special needs. Meanwhile other schools find ways to manage these high need, ‘expensive’ children by expelling them for disruptive behavior, forcing many parents out of work and in to homeschooling.
I’d like to talk to you about the numbers.
It’s my understanding that under ORS, a school receives $18.47 per hour per student before the deduction of GST, holiday pay, sick leave and ACC – leaving $15.90 as the actual per hour cost allocated (less than the new minimum wage). Although the funding rate hasn’t changed in many years, teacher aide rates increase every year, widening the funding gap between what schools receive to pay for teacher aides, and what they need to pay in teacher aide salaries. Many schools top up the funding gap by using their operational grant, or even fund-raising via their parent support groups, but that still isn’t enough to cover the deficit at my daughter’s school.
The average teacher aide wage at my daughter’s school is $19.47 per hour due to the specialist skills some students require, leaving an average deficit of $3.57 per hour, per student, over 45 weeks of the year, including holidays for their large team of teacher aides. This means the school will have the deficit of $118,482 to meet their commitments to the students who require additional support over and above the allocated funding this year.
This school has truly become victims of their own success, with my daughter proudly one of their success stories. In the two years she has been supported by this school the change in her has been drastic.
My once angry, non-verbal child no longer takes her clothes off in public, and can be found each morning on the school radio, or singing songs at assembly. She is obsessed with Māori culture and participates in kapa haka and has most recently joined the school’s singing group. The school participates in RDA (Riding for the Disabled) and she can be found at the top of their website demonstrating her sweet and loving nature, and is an example of how drastically a child can improve when fully supported by an inclusive education system. As much as my daughter learns from the other students, they also learn from her and understand that we are all different, but all special in our own ways.
Since this school is so successful at polishing its treasures so their individual brilliance can shine, they are now attracting more and more children who require learning support. Parents have heard about this school and have started to move into the school zone so that their special needs children can attend. In some cases, they only bring their ORS children, which increases the financial burden even further.
I know there probably isn’t a silver bullet to solve this, but if we continue to do the same things and expect a different result, then we are mad. I would love to see a task-force established that includes representatives from finance, principals from especially affected schools such as the one mentioned above, teacher aides, and a couple of parents like myself. As a business consultant, I’m used to looking for new models to solve old problems and I’d be willing to work with you and others to get the job done!
Please let me know when it would be convenient to meet with you so we can truly start to work together and make the difference that was at the heart of your campaign.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Passionate about Inclusion, Collaboration, Innovation and making a difference.