Wakatipu High sicks debt collectors on local families

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Wakatipu High is enlisting debt collectors as a last resort to chase thousands in outstanding school bills owed by local families each year. 

Parents are failing to pay the secondary school about $25,000 annually for their kids’ course costs – money the school principal says it desperately needs. 

Baycorp is called on to collect money for long-overdue bills associated with more expensive subjects, school camps and trips. Optional school donations and general attendance fees have never been included in Wakatipu High’s Baycorp crackdown. 

Principal Steve Hall says most families pay their bills but about 30 cases a year go to Baycorp as a last resort. 

“We do this because there are really large sums of money owed, we’re not doing this for fun,” he says, adding he’s aware of other schools that use Baycorp. 

“It has a huge effect on our budget – that is a lot of money in anyone’s book, no matter what kind of organisation you’re running.” 

Hall, who began at the school last year, has access to the number of cases per year since 2005 but can’t trace all the amounts owed, though he’s been told it’s about $25,000 annually. 

In 2011 there were 29 Baycorp referrals, owing $25,000 in total. In 2010 there were just 13 cases, owing $27,500. There were 57 cases in 2007. 

The school sends parents requests, reminders and makes phone calls before Baycorp is contacted at least 12 months after the bill is issued. 

Baycorp’s recovery rate is good, Hall says. 

“I believe when Baycorp gets involved some people respond very quickly. If the Baycorp debt is ignored then you will get a bad credit rating. 

“Others take longer to pay. Even with Baycorp you still have some people who’re just not paying.” 

School fees vary for each student and depend on whether they’re in the senior or junior school, and what subjects they take. For example, a senior student taking photography is billed $200. If they also take outdoor recreation, that’s another $400. 

The hugely-popular Year 10 Branches camp costs $300 per student. 

“At prize-giving last year, on the last day of the school year, we still had thousands of dollars owing on the Branches and Year 9 camps,” Hall says. 

Under the Education Act, every person who is not a foreign student aged five to 19 is entitled to free enrolment and free education at a state school. A school board can’t demand fees to cover tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum, and parents may not be levied to pay for things like heat, light and water. 

Hall says the school endeavours to follow the letter of the law and debt collection only applies to costs “that we believe we are entitled to charge for”. 

Wakatipu High has mechanisms in place to support families who struggle to pay their bills, and Hall says he intends on making the assistance process even better. 

“It’s one of the more unpleasant aspects of running a school,” he adds. 

“You’re trying to get on with your community and the parents and you’re trying to support people and have them support you.
“You know there are families that struggle, but you’re in this position where we need this income,” Hall says.