Schools stung by teacher pay shock

Schools are on the hook for thousands in reliever and teacher bonuses negotiated through the recent pay settlements. Laura Walters reports.

Schools feel blindsided by another hurdle in the delivery of teacher pay adjustments, which will see schools reaching into their own pockets for potentially thousands of dollars.

Part of the recent collective agreement deal struck between the Government and the primary and secondary unions includes a one-off $1500 lump sum payment for all union members. This payment is pro-rated for teachers working part-time, and is due to be delivered by the end of the month.

A letter from Novopay said schools who employed teachers and relievers directly, and paid them out of school operational budgets, would be the ones footing the bill for the lump sum bonuses of those teachers.

This has caused confusion among principals, who expected the ministry to cover this cost directly, and have not budgeted for the extra expense.

EdPay (which is responsible for Novopay and the education payroll system) and the Ministry of Education confirmed this was the case, and said schools should have been aware of their responsibilities when they employed additional teachers through their operational funding.

Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said 2500 schools would be affected by this.There was no budget for it, and no boards or principals saw it coming, he said.

Boards were going to be angry when they realised they would be footing the bill for the lump sum, Cormick said.

He categorised it as an “another unintended consequence” of the settlements, and a lack of communication from the ministry and the unions, which would disadvantage a significant number of schools.

Through prudent financial management, some schools were able to employ extra teachers or relievers through their operational funding, in order to give kids the education they deserved, Cormick said.

These teachers were not a “luxury item”, and schools should not be stung for making a choice in the interest of students’ learning.

National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says she's been contacted by angry and confused principals who feel blindsided by this extra cost. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

NZEI campaigns director Stephanie Mills said this was an unforeseen cost, and some boards would struggle to come up with the payment, meaning they could be forced to go into deficit, or use money that should be spent elsewhere.

For the sake of efficiency and to ensure schools did not have to redirect money away from student support and learning needs, the lump sum should be paid directly by the ministry, she said.

But the ministry has no intention of covering that lump sum cost for either relievers or additional teachers.

In the meantime, Cormick said he would be writing to all members to encourage them to immediately move teachers to a ministry-paid salary, where possible, in order to create a workaround.

If schools could move those teachers onto the ministry books by the end of the day on Wednesday, they would not have to cover the payment.

'Another blow to principals'

National Party spokesperson Nikki Kaye said she had been contacted by confused and concerned principals, who felt blindsided by this extra cost.

It was another blow to principals, Kaye said.

“This will not help with settlement negotiations as principals see this as another example of poor treatment.”

Principals and boards could be facing budget blowouts, and may have to fund raise or redirect money from student learning.

“The Minister either knew and deliberately didn’t mention there was no extra money covering this or he and the ministry have been incompetent in not providing for this funding… This is another example of poor communication and incompetence in the way that the settlement has been handled.”

Ministry of Education head of infrastructure service Kim Shannon said there were no plans to increase operational funding to account for the lump sum payment or increases in salaries "as these are roles a school has chosen to have over and above the funded staffing entitlement".

Schools that employed additional teachers through their operational funding were expected to pay all costs associated with employing that teacher including things like salaries, professional development obligations and changes to collective agreements, Shannon said.

But if a teacher had worked across five schools during the period agreed to in the settlement, those five schools would share the cost. If they had worked part-time, their lump sum would payout would reflect that.

While the ministry would not cover the cost of the lump sum payment for teachers or relievers employed directly by schools, relief teacher funding components of schools’ operational grant and the ministry’s central pool for relief teachers would increase in line with the union pay rises.

Ongoing payroll issues

This is not the first stumbling block in delivering hard-fought pay increases and bonuses to primary and secondary school teachers.

After more than a year of negotiations, NZEI and PPTA settled on an agreement with the Government in June, following intervention from Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

But it didn’t take long for concerns to be raised about the length of time Novopay planned to take to enact the agreed pay rises.

Novopay said teachers would have to wait until mid-September to receive their pay rises, prompting NZEI to file legal action for compliance and penalties.

Last week, NZEI National secretary Paul Goulter said the delay was “completely unacceptable”.

“I'm sorry that we have to ask teachers to wait a little longer to get the pay rises they fought hard to get. It's frustrating. If there was a way to speed up the process, I'd make it happen. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer here."

Meanwhile, Education Minister Chris Hipkins apologised to teachers, and called on the unions to work with the ministry to simplify the system.

In a series of tweets, Hipkins said he was not happy about the delay, “it’s just not good enough”.

“The legacy of the Novopay debacle still haunts us,” he wrote on Twitter.

The replacement of Novopay was underway, and he believed it would help avoid future frustrations, but alone would not fix everything.

The school payroll remains the most complex in the country, and the attempt to make 139,000 adjustments to the pay packets of 51,000 educators had added to the pressure.

“I'm sorry that we have to ask teachers to wait a little longer to get the pay rises they fought hard to get. It's frustrating. If there was a way to speed up the process, I'd make it happen. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer here,” he wrote.

The delay in the latest round of pay rises has again highlighted Novopay issues, which were at their worst under the former National Government. But issues have been ongoing under the current Government.

For at least the past two years, beginning teachers have been paid below the minimum wage for months, while Novopay carried out salary assessments. This meant many new teachers were struggling to make ends meet, and in some cases struggling to cover living costs and defaulting on payments.

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