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Canterbury principal banned from teaching after theft of school funds

Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 27 February 2019, 1:21PM
James Fletcher used Omihi School's fuel card meant for the school bus to buy petrol for his car. (Photo / School website)
James Fletcher used Omihi School's fuel card meant for the school bus to buy petrol for his car. (Photo / School website)

A North Canterbury school principal has been banned from teaching after taking $8200 of the school's money for personal use.

James Bernard Fletcher was dismissed from his job as principal of Omihi School, a tiny decile 10 rural school of 35 students near Waipara, in July 2017 after he admitted taking the money.

The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has now cancelled his teaching registration.

"His conduct was deliberate, intentional and systematic and extended over a three-year period and it involved theft from the school via a number of different methods," the tribunal said.

"His conduct is shameful and sets a very poor example for students."

The tribunal found that Fletcher:

  • Used the school's fuel card to buy petrol worth $5926.70 for his personal use between September 2014 and June 2017.
  • Failed to pay rent of $1980 for the school house for five weeks in 2014 and failed to disclose this.
  • Claimed reimbursement from the school for $330.60 as travel expenses for six professional development courses which he did not attend.

The school board of trustees only became aware of the offending in June 2017 when it learned that the fuel card had been used to buy premium petrol when it was supposed to be used only for diesel for the school bus.

Fletcher immediately admitted that he had used the petrol for personal use and voluntarily disclosed that he had also claimed reimbursements for the courses he had not attended.

"When asked why he had used the fuel card on more than one occasion, Mr Fletcher stated that he was 'personally in a bit of debt'," the tribunal reported.

"Mr Fletcher said he thought he would 'put a plan in place', and wished he had disclosed his use of the fuel card earlier."

Fletcher also admitted that he stayed in the school house for five weeks in 2014 before starting to pay rent.

The tribunal says board chairwoman Sarah Barnes told Fletcher in 2015 that the auditor had picked up the underpayment but Fletcher stated it was because he had "changed accounts at the time".

"When Mr Fletcher was asked when he first became aware of the unpaid rent, Mr Fletcher stated that he had had a 'conversation with [the] board as [the] house was not fully finished re bathroom/carpets'," the tribunal said.

"Mr Fletcher's wife, who was also present at this meeting, said the 'conversation was with someone re condition of house and then not pay rent'. When Mr Fletcher and his wife were asked who they had that discussion with, neither could remember.

"Mr Fletcher stated that he was happy, however, to reimburse the school back for that period."

He has since repaid all the money he owed for the fuel card, travel and rent, and did not contest the charges against him.

He applied for his name to be suppressed, arguing that publication of his name "would cause undue hardship to his school-age children, nieces and nephews" and cause stress to other family members involved in education.

The tribunal refused, stating: "Teachers should not be under any illusion that if they choose to behave unethically, the consequences may cause embarrassment to family members. That is not a ground for name suppression."


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