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Ex-principal made to wait months for $100K from Ministry of Education

Author
Simon Collins - NZ Herald,
Section
Education,
Publish Date
Friday, 10 May 2019, 2:08PM
Mary-Anne Murphy had to max out her credit cards while she waited for the Ministry of Education to pay her more than $100,000. Photo / Supplied
Mary-Anne Murphy had to max out her credit cards while she waited for the Ministry of Education to pay her more than $100,000. Photo / Supplied

A former principal who provides in-service training for teachers has had to borrow money to stay afloat after waiting months for the Ministry of Education to pay her almost $100,000.

Huntly-based Momentum Learning director Mary-Anne Murphy said she was forced to increase her overdraft and max out all her credit cards because of delays in the ministry's processing system.

A ministry newsletter to providers in March said complaints about time delays in both approving and paying for teacher professional development were "universal".

"Impacts cited include pressure on the viability and functioning of your businesses," the newsletter said.

But it said staffing to administer the new system had been increased, and systems were being redesigned, to try to deal with the problems.

Murphy said the delays were due to ministry administrative procedures.

This related to her moving out of Wintec, which previously provided an umbrella for her work, to set up her own company with one other person.

She applied to become an independent provider in a ministry request for proposals last September and was notified that she had been approved on February 12.

She then asked the ministry to transfer some work that she had already done, some dating back to last December, to her new company for payment.

Ministry associate deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver said the ministry then took three weeks to check with Wintec and all the schools involved to clarify which work should be paid to Momentum and which work had already been paid to Wintec.

"The purchase orders were generated in the next round two weeks later," she said.

Murphy said she received the purchase orders on April 18, which meant she was finally able to invoice the ministry for the unpaid work.

She emailed the invoices on April 18, but they were lost so she sent them again on May 3.

"They lost my account in the system somewhere, then said I'd have to go back to the back of the line, basically," she said.

"It's putting us under financial pressure. Yes, they state we should have enough buffer to withstand it, but more than $100,000 is what I'm owed. I've maxed out my credit cards and my overdraft to try to be able to pay wages this week.

"It took me to my wit's end, and a few tears over the phone yesterday, to tell them actually what it was like for me having to deal with no income from them for the last 10 to 12 weeks."

The ministry finally paid her $93,331 a few hours after that phone call on May 8. The payment included travel and accommodation as well as income for the two facilitators.

Mary-Anne Murphy had to max out her credit cards while she waited for the Ministry of Education to pay her more than $100,000. Photo / Supplied
Mary-Anne Murphy had to max out her credit cards while she waited for the Ministry of Education to pay her more than $100,000. Photo / Supplied

Murphy, a former principal of Waitetuna School near Raglan and Kaihere School on the Hauraki Plains, said teacher professional development used to be provided by teachers' colleges, most of which were swallowed up by universities about 20 years ago. She started as a trainer with Waikato University.

"Then the providers combined, so super-providers were created," she said. She became part of a consortium including Core Education as well as the university.

"Then it shifted to the free market about two years ago," she said.

The new system, phased in over the past three years, requires each school to put in a bid to the ministry for professional development that aligns with current national priorities, and to choose someone to provide the training from a list of 559 facilitators employed by about 88 providers.

The ministry's March newsletter acknowledged that the resulting funding uncertainty was "impacting on viability and sustainability of businesses."

Auckland University withdrew from the business last year after its income from in-service training plunged from $15.5 million in 2016 to a projected $4.1m last year.

However, the system may be about to be change again if the Government adopts a taskforce proposal to create regional education hubs, which would "provide and/or broker" teacher professional development.

Nikki Kaye, pictured recently with Northland MP Matt King behind her, says delays in paying teacher trainers are
Nikki Kaye, pictured recently with Northland MP Matt King behind her, says delays in paying teacher trainers are "extremely concerning". Photo / Peter de Graaf

National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye, who was asked by Murphy to help, said the long delay in paying her what she was owed was "extremely concerning".

"It's clear the ministry can't even get the basics right and we need urgent assurances that these issues are being resolved," she said.

Cleaver said she spoke to Murphy today and "apologised for the stress she has faced in getting paid".

"This situation is not an example of system issues, however it does highlight the complexity of providers moving from waged employees to sole traders," she said.

"We have identified we could do a better job of communicating the steps and timelines involved in becoming a contracted provider."

She said the ministry was investing in "a more user-friendly, cloud-based platform" to manage professional development.

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