NZEI Te Riu Roa is in negotiations with the Ministry of Education to secure better funding for support staff in schools.
On Friday, it held a meeting in Gore to discuss what the Ministry of Education had said so far.
Mataura Primary School teacher aide Glenda West said the Ministry had a zero-increase policy on the operations grant for schools, which was where the wages of support staff came from, as well as money for bills and school maintenance.
“With the Government freezing the operations grant, it puts pressure on the school,” Mrs West said.
Schools had to choose between support staff hours and paying the bills or doing maintenance, Mrs West said.
“Children are so important. They need support. If they can’t get the support they need, they get swallowed up.
“Teachers can only do so much.”
Support staff were vital to the everyday running of the school, Mrs West said.
“Without support staff, the school wouldn’t be able to run.”
While children with severe disabilities had a caregiver allowance, the pupils who struggled to keep up did not and needed teacher aides in the classroom, Mrs West said.
Those of most concern to her were “the ones that are on the borderline, the ones with learning disabilities and behavioural issues”.
Ideally, support staff should be paid straight from the ministry, as teachers were, she said.
“At the moment our job security depends on the operations grant.”
Teacher aides and other support staff had very little professional development time.
“We are only paid for the time we spend in the classroom.”
Gore and Districts Principals’ Association president Susan Dennison said support staff kept a school going.
“The school couldn’t operate without support staff,” Mrs Dennison said.
She agreed that it would be ideal for support staff wages to come from a different fund.
“Ideally, support staff money would come out of a different pot but that that is not practical for the Government,” Mrs Dennison said.
Minister of Education Hekia Parata said the Government’s role was to fund state and state-integrated schools to provide a good public education.
“Children are at the heart of our education system, and we absolutely value all of our education sector employees,” Ms Parata said.
This was shown by the Government’s highest ever investment in public education.
“This financial year, that amounts to over $11billion.
“Funding for vote education has gone up by 35% since 2008 and 2009, and operational grant funding [direct-to-school funding] has gone up 37.6%, while student numbers have increased by only 3.6%.”
Schools received discretionary funding in the form of operational grants, Ms Parata said.
“It is up to them to decide the best use of that money.”