How to fix school payroll problems

February 8th, 2013 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

Peter Creswell blogs at Not PC:

Yet again another Novopay pay round has been labelled a shocker, as “the Ministry of Education fielded hundreds of calls from school staff either not paid or underpaid by Novopay yesterday.”

As you might have noticed, a ministerial inquiry is about to be established to inquire why the centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system failed. 

Perhaps the first question to be asked is ‘why is such a system is even necessary?’

Schools have their own pay administrators, who currently spend around half their time making up calculating pay and the other half trying to remedy stuff-ups by Novopay. Why on earth not have them simply pay the staff from the school’s bank account, without any need at all for a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all payroll system?

Why not?

Because perhaps the second point to contemplate is that the problem with Novopay is not specifically a software problem at all.  I suggest instead it’s exactly what you’re expect of a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system.

I agree. Rather than have all teachers employed by the Ministry of Education and paid by them, I’d have each school responsible for employing their own staff and paying them. If a school wished to used a centralised system such as Novopay they can, or they could use another SAAS system, or local software as they see fit.

It would also mean each school would have flexibility over how much they pay their teachers, within their overall funding.  They could pay a great teacher twice as much as a poor teacher.

Chris Hipkins blogs against performance pay at Red Alert:

There are some excellent teachers working really hard in schools where the students are struggling. They get incredible results, and often the students in their classes learn a lot more in a year than a child at a school with better test scores, yet because the kids are still behind some of their peers at the end of the year, these schools are labelled as ‘failures’. Why would a great teacher work their guts out at a struggling school when they could get more ‘performance’ pay by working in a school that wasn’t struggling?

This is not an argument against performance pay. This is an argument against measuring performance on the basis of test scores, rather than student improvement. It is a red herring. No one who argues for performance pay says it should simply go to the teachers whose students get the highest grades.

As Kelvin points out, there is a lot more to teaching than making sure kids hit an arbitrary and narrowly focused set of standards. The fundamental problem with ‘performance’ pay for teachers is that a narrow range of student achievement statistics alone aren’t a reliable measure of how good a teacher is. Can we do a better job of rewarding great teachers? Undoubtedly. Should we provide more incentives for teachers to undertake professional development and continually strive to be better teachers. For sure. Will ‘performance pay’ based on student achievement help achieve these things? No.

Again, no one I know is arguing for performance pay based purely on student achievement. The problem is Chris thinks performance pay has to be like the current pay system – based on one centralised collective scheme with defined criteria for extra pay to be based on.

I’d make each Board and Principal decide how to allocate “performance pay” in their schools. The school community knows who the great and not so great teachers are. I knew it when I was a pupil. Almost everyone knows it. Some teachers have a marvelous gift for connecting with pupils and some teachers just can’t do it no matter how hard they try.

Performance pay will never work as a centralised system based on what marks your students get. It can work as a flexible system where principals can reward the teachers they know make a huge different to their students and whose loss to the school would be a disaster. This is a subjective local decision, not a rigid central decision.

The solution to the teacher payroll problem

November 15th, 2012 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

Jody O’Callaghan writes at Stuff:

They’ve been overpaid, underpaid and not paid at all – now one teacher has been paid for being in two places at one time.

In the latest round of Novopay botches, the relief teacher was paid for working at schools in Upper Hutt and Auckland on the same day.

The Upper Hutt school, which did not want to be named, joked that a classroom of children must have been left reading silently, while their teacher caught a plane to Auckland.

This week’s pay cycle gave one teacher thousands of dollars more than they were owed, when they were paid for 39 days, instead of 39 hours.

And Fergusson Intermediate School deputy principal Shirley Porteous, of Upper Hutt, was randomly demoted by the new payroll system, so she supposedly now owes Novopay $1500.

Teacher unions and Labour education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta are demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the Education Ministry’s system, which was introduced nearly three months ago.

The performance of the new payroll system does appear to have been not satisfactory. Having said that, have to be careful to make every single error a major story. I imagine the old payroll system would always have a dozen or so errors in it, out of 60,000 or so teachers paid. What I’d be keen to see reported is how many errors have occurred each pay period since it was implemented.

I do feel very sorry for those teachers and schools that have to cope with not being paid. Worse of all for them, there is nothing they can do about it.

That is why I have a solution. Bulk Funding. If we delegated salaries to every school, then each school would choose its own payroll provider (or do it themselves) and they could simply not use a company like Novopay, if there performance is not satisfactory.

UPDATE: A reader points out the contract with Novopay was approved in September 2008 by then Education Minister Chris Carter!

UPDATE2 I understand that in fact each pay period has around 100,000 pays from 2,300 schools and there are several hundred different pay rates and codes. This means that even a 99.9% accuracy rate will have 100 or so mistakes per pay period. Also what may not be known is that any staff member under paid or not paid by the central system, can and generally does get paid by the school out of their ops grant, so the staff member is not out of pocket. The Ministry then reimburses the school once the error is notified and corrected, So yes there are issues to be sorted out, but there shouldn’t be anyone out of pocket for more than a day.

Let students and parents decide

July 12th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Amanda Fisher at Stuff reports:

After huge community pressure, including a hikoi to Parliament, the education minister has partly backtracked on proposed mergers of schools.

In May, Anne Tolley announced her decision to merge three Kawerau primary schools into one, close Kawerau Intermediate and turn Kawerau South School into a year 1 to year 8 primary school.

That was despite four of six schools opting for a different outcome, and a petition signed by 70 per cent of the town’s adults. About 250 people joined a May hikoi from Kawerau to Wellington.

However, Mrs Tolley announced yesterday that a Maori immersion kura, going up to year 8, would be established on the current Kawerau North School site. She has delayed deciding the fate of the intermediate, which could be merged with Kawerau College, saying any changes would not take effect before 2013.

However, the three intermediates – Kawerau North, Kawerau Central and Putauaki primary schools – would still merge.

I think it is regrettable that our funding model means that the Minister is the person who has to decide which schools are viable, and which ones are not.

Ideally schools should be fully delegated their funding – property, salaries, IT, operations etc. And parents and students should be able to choose which school they wish to attend, with funding following them.

That way, then the Minister would not have to decide on school mergers. If a school can attract enough students to remain viable, then good on them. If their roll shrinks to the point they can not cover their costs, then they close.

Labour supports bulk funding

September 3rd, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

But sadly it is Labor, not Labour that does. Just another example of how ideologically rigid and captured by the unions NZ Labour is.

In the excitement of the aussie campaign, I o overlooked this story:

JULIA Gillard yesterday promised parents and principals greater control over their schools as she turned to her policy strength of education.

In two major policy moves, as she attempts to regain political momentum, the Prime Minister yesterday outlined a $484 million plan over six years to give parents and principals greater autonomy from education bureaucracies and a $668m boost in family payments to 16 to 18-year-olds to keep them in school.

Under the schools plan, principals and school boards would be able to hire teachers and control their own school budget, directing resources to their students’ specific needs.

Superb. The NZ counterpart won’t even support better reporting of student achievement to parents, let alone bulk funding.

At the next election, National should campaign to implement Julia Gillard’s education reforms.

PM gives principals control

JULIA Gillard yesterday promised parents and principals greater control over their schools as she turned to her policy strength of education.

In two major policy moves, as she attempts to regain political momentum, the Prime Minister yesterday outlined a $484 million plan over six years to give parents and principals greater autonomy from education bureaucracies and a $668m boost in family payments to 16 to 18-year-olds to keep them in school.

Under the schools plan, principals and school boards would be able to hire teachers and control their own school budget, directing resources to their students’ specific needs.

Bulk Funding

October 17th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Trevor Mallard blogs:

Anne Tolley will announce a progressive introduction of bulk funding for schools starting soon with the staffing component for guidance and careers counsellors being abolished and a small increase going into the bulk operations grant.

Now it comes from Trevor, so it is hardly reliable, but we can all keep our fingers crossed that it is actually true.

Bulk funding is in fact how almost every other part of society operates.

Hospitals don’t have their staff paid out of one budget on a fixed scale, and an operations grant for everything else.

Universities don’t have their staff paid out of one budget, and an ops grant for everything else.

It is pretty much only in the school sector that you have this abnormal arrangement.

School fighting for three years to get drains fixed

July 2nd, 2008 at 9:18 am by David Farrar

I’ve just watched last night’s Close Up, after Bernard Hickey blogged about it.

If you did not view it, go watch it now. It is disgusting. They have spent three years fighting the Ministry of Education to get their drains unblocked etc. Finally they wrote to the Minister Chris Carter but he hasn’t even replied to them, so in desperation they went public:

They’ve had 25 meetings with the Ministry of Education over their property plan. You wonder why numbers at the Ministry of Education has increased so much – this is why. Let me quote Bernard:

The school’s poor principal, Diane McCallum, and the board had been jumping through bureaucratic hoops for three years trying to get a decision on fixing the decrepid school buildings. Tiaho School’s drains overflow when it rains, flooding the toilets and the playing fields with sewage. The students have to walk on duckboards to cross the playground. McCallum is worried that the students are afraid to go to the toilet because of the smell and therefore may struggle to learn.

The rain gets into the wires and sets off the fire alarm. The principal has to climb on a ladder and jam blu-tack into the alarm to stop it ringing when it rains so classes aren’t disrupted. The school wanted some money for some new buildings or to renovate the buildings. There had been 25 meetings with the ministry and 3 different building plans had been submitted. Consultants had visited at a cost of NZ$24,000. Letters had been exchanged. Formulas considered. Yet nothing happened.

Then the boiler broke last week. The Ministry of Education told the principal to buy a bunch of heaters because it wasn’t worth fixing the boiler. The school then spent NZ$4,000 on oil column heaters to warm up the school so the students wouldn’t be too cold. Then the caretaker turned them all on and the electrical system shorted out.

An apt summary of the background. And then the Ministry:

The Education Ministry’s National Property Manager Paul Burke first went through his bureaucratic routine of trying to explain why the school hadn’t quite jumped through all the hoops yet, despite three years of trying. He was trying to explain the shape of the hoops, the number of hoops, how round they were, what they were made of and the exact nature of the leaps required to jump said hoops. He wore a lovely suit with a beautiful tie. He seemed like a man who knew the rules very well.

I wanted to throw things at the television. Mike Hosking avoided throwing things. But he did quickly tear apart the Kafka-esque web the good bureaucrat was weaving. Why was it taking so long? Why couldn’t the drains be fixed? How many consultants does it take to change the lightbulbs at Tiaho school….and why?

I’m just amazed that we make schools jump through such hoops and have to get Wellington to approve a new boiler. Sounds like a case for bulk funding for me. Sure large exceptional items will always be an issue, but forcing a school to spend three years and 25 meetings justifying why they need the drains and sewers unblocked is madness.

Asset Sales

April 14th, 2008 at 6:24 am by David Farrar

National’s policy on state owned assets for the 2005 election was very mild.  It was for no full sales, and maybe one or two minor part-sales. Something that even Labour has done in Government – sell some minor state assets.

Labour of course would have you believe National plans to sell the roads, the seas, the air and the water, rather than have a rational debate over whether or not the NZ Government needs to own a chain of garages (Vehicle Testing NZ).

And having semi-sucessfully managed a fear campaign in 2005, they were all poised to do so again. For months on end they tried to talk up Auckland Airport as some sort of state asset sale they were stopping when the reality was it has been a privately owned company since Winston sold it in 1998.

So at the Labour Party Congress this weekend, they were all set to start their campaign of fear and loathing on asset sales. Yet quietly on Sunday morning on Agenda, John Key took their toys away:

GUYON Alright you rightly point out it was sold by the National government in 1998 now that brings us to this position.  What is your position now as a National Party on state asset sales?

JOHN Well National’s had some time to reflect on that and the position that we’ve decided to have is the following one.  That in the first term of the National government there will be no state assets that will be sold either partially or fully.

GUYON So no state assets, you’re completely firm on that?

JOHN That’s right.

Colin Espiner caught on to the wonderful timing:

COLIN ESPINER – Christchurch Press
Mr Key the Prime Minister addressed the Labour Party’s annual congress, the election congress yesterday and one of the things she said was that asset sales were a defining issue for Labour, and a defining issue for the election, you’ve just essentially inoculated that, was that your intention?

and again:

COLIN  Sure, but you’re also avoiding skirting around the issue of asset sales where you’re gonna get clobbered by Labour, and they were warming up, they’ve been warming up on this one for weeks and you’ve essentially ripped the rug from under them haven’t you?

Yes he has.

John Armstrong I think is 100% wrong on this being a fumble, because Key only ruled them out for the first term of office. Far from being a fumble, it was a move of brilliant timing and within a few weeks, the issue will have little resonance with anyone but those who are in no way swinging voters. No party ever gives a guarantee beyond one election, and no-one outside Helen Clark and a few commentators really get excited about what may or many not happen in two elections time.

Now my personal view on asset sales I blogged back in July 2005, and listed 13 SOEs I would happily sell.  But even National under Don Brash was talking at most a partial float of Solid Energy and maybe a few farms.

If you are not going to have a bold asset sale programme (such as I would do), then it is politically stupid to have a 5% programme where you attract all the scaremongering over asset sales, just to allow say a 20% share holding in some coal mines.

So despite personally favouring a bold programme of asset sales, I am delighted that National has shut down Labour’s ability to effectively scare-monger on this issue, because frankly you should either do a bold programme, or do no programme at all. The 2005 Brash policy was so modest, it wasn’t worth the hassle and distraction it would be.

So overall I thought Key did very well on Agenda – a very in depth and extended interview. And I say that having been pretty critical of how Key handled the Peters issue the week before.

While I am very relaxed about going from a 5% asset sale policy to a 0% asset sale policy, I am somewhat concerned over the dropping of bulk funding. Sure, I understand the politics around not provoking the PPTA and NZEI into a full-scale jihad, but if we are serious about lifting our economic game, we need to lift our educational game, and the current way we fund and staff our schools will not achieve that.  Having said no to bulk funding, the onus is on National to come up with some other ways to improve management and funding of our schools.