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School Trustees - thrown in the deep end?

School trustees should now be bedded into their work of meeting the needs of their school’s community.

New trustees face a steep learning curve as they get to know the job. Boards are responsible for ensuring that every student in their school has the opportunity to realise their full potential. That, in itself, is an enormous task.

However it doesn’t stop there.

Trustees are also responsible for the curriculum taught in the school as well as employing the school principal, teachers and support staff. And trustees are responsible for all property and financial matters, and for ensuring that the school premises are a safe environment for students, staff and visitors.

But don’t panic - trustees are not expected to be experts in teaching, education, employment law, finances or health and safety. Most of the work which they are responsbile for will be delegated to the principal, who in turn may delegate it to other team members or advisers.

Trustees’ role is governance of the school, they should not be getting involved with the day-to-day management of the school.

Trustees need to be asking questions to ensure that tasks they have delegated are being performed properly. Remember, trustees can delegate the task but they cannot delegate their responsbility.

Even at the smallest of schools, they will have control of several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers’ money. They are responsible for ensuring that this money is spent in the best way to help every student realises their potential.

A common target area for a number of primary schools is boys’ writing. The board need to decide, with guidance from the principal, how much money to commit to this area and how they should spend this money. There is no bottomless pit of money. You can only spend the dollar once. So for every dollar you spend on boys’ writing, there is one dollar less to spend on mathematics.

The board has the unenviable task of priortising spending and setting a budget.

Four months down the track and some trustees may be regretting putting their hands up.

There is no need to be concerned.

They should by now be aware that the NZ School Trustee Association (NZSTA) offers many free training courses and seminars for trustees.

In my first term of office I attended a number of these. The most valuable outcome from these courses was the connection with other trustees around the Far North, as well as sharing ideas and experiences which we could all take back to our respective schools and kura.

This will sound a bit like a broken record, but providing trustees focus on their decision-making to ensure every student has the opportunity to realise their full potential, they cannot go far wrong.

Finally, and most importantly, do not be scared of asking the difficult questions. Trustees are responsible for the governance of the school and therefore need to understand what is happening. Do not be fobbed off by the principal or another trustee. If you do not understand the answer, for whatever reason, ask them to explain further.

On behalf of the future of your tamariki, I thank you for standing up and putting yourself forward. Good luck for the remainder of your three year term and remember, if you need help, chat with one of your fellow school trustees or the NZSTA.

Stewart Russell
PKF Francis Aickin Ltd

This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms only. The publication should not be relied upon to provide specific information without also obtaining appropriate professional advice after detailed examination of your particular situation

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