Part 2 Rangiora is about the school’s assets: in which I set out to nail Peter Hughes

This posting is based on the first of two letters I sent to Peter Hughes some days before the dismissal of Peggy Burrows.  In other postings I have pinned the blame for this most terrible of school interventions on Hekia Parata; but sitting there preening himself for being the very model of a secretary education general is Peter Hughes – how did he let this happen? How was he caught up in the madness of the gang-like official behaviour? Does he consider himself more consigliere than a senior State Service appointee? I allocate considerable blame to him for weakness in not confronting the unethical and possibly illegal actions that will be demonstrated. I warned him in two letters of the incompetence of the Commissioner and the utter lack of validity of the accusations against Peggy Burrows. But he sat it out as he has in the Marlene Campbell case (as we await the final death throes of that ministry fiasco). This posting is dedicated to him.  

Dear Peter

In February 2015 the minister of education, the Right Honourable Hekia Parata, by notice in the Gazette, dissolved the Rangiora High School board of trustees as per section 78N of the Education Act 1989.   The minister’s decision was based on information you provided her taken from a scoping report prepared by specialist adviser Mrs Bev Moore in January 2015.

Your advice to the minister was that there were significant concerns regarding Rangiora High School, those being:

  • Communications within the school and with its community
  • Inadequate board systems and processes such as school’s planning and reporting, complaint management and self-review
  • Employment management
  • Financial management
  • Property management

[The evidence to back any of these concerns was pathetic and wrong even in being pathetic. Oh my goodness what deterioration in a short time from a brilliant Education Review Office report. None of the concerns, if seen in the context of the real world, has a jot of substance or merit, they are a concoction, and given the cost – financial and emotional – should be considered a libel on the Principal who was to bear the brunt of their effects; and a reckless disturbance on the well-being of the school and its students. None of these concerns have lasted the distance, indeed, they never got off the blocks, except as a ruse to remove the Board of Trustees and impose a Commissioner so the Ministry could get access to the Trust funds recently brought to the Ministry’s attention.

To demonstrate the dishonesty in the Ministry’s approach I take a statement from Peter Hughes letter to my letter. He writes:

‘The Ministry also assessed advice from the Special Adviser Finance who undertook a review at the School, as well as other information the Ministry had access to, such as the known concerns about the failure of previous interventions in the School.’

First, what is not mentioned that the only difficulty the Board had was protecting itself from the intemperate actions of some Board members who wanted more haste in buying land. But a new Board had been elected and the situation approved by the Ministry. There were no other issues. 

Second, and this shows your trickiness Peter, made all the worse by the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-your-mouth manner with teachers and schools – you mention a Special Adviser Finance (who I expect you include in your expression ‘previous interventions’) but with no further explanation thereby casting a slur on the Principal. The truth is the exact opposite of the implied slur, which typifies your approach. You don’t mention what his finance report said do you Peter? why don’t you Peter? sitting there, acting the good guy in the Ministry – you don’t mention what the report says because it was glowing. He said the financial management was excellent. This reflexive action to distort and lie in tight situations explains the fetid atmosphere that prevails in the Ministry.

This exposes you Peter as either a player of dirty tricks or an incompetent.

None of the ‘concerns’ were to survive as reasons for the dismissal of the Principal, though three of even greater triviality were to supersede them. 

I always had your number Peter, I anticipated it – the following was written some time before you and Rangiora. That I was able to anticipate you so on-the-button says something about you Peter:

The Kafkan power of the intervention process is such that there is rarely a genuine problem beyond that manufactured by the intervention process itself, meaning that those complaining only need to keep complaining for the intervention process to produce the Kafkan situation of irrationality so deviously favourable to their ends. Once the intervention is in place, the question becomes not what the problem was but whether the principal is perfect in every respect? And the principal, no matter how insignificant the imperfection revealed or how irrelevant to the initial ‘problem’, is always caught out, and much is made of that, and is a goner. After all, those making the judgement are those arrayed against the principal from the beginning. It seems the advice given by a character in Kafka should have been heeded: ‘The only right thing to do was to come to terms with the circumstances as they were.’ As such principals should ready themselves to have their vocations made to die ‘Like a dog!’ with the shame to outlive them. 

Now let’s go back a bit and see how Mrs Bev Moore got into the picture and how she became Commissioner. The process is most unusual, deceptive, invalid, and probably illegal.]

Reliant on that information Minister Parata directed you to appoint a Commissioner to replace the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees.  You contracted Mrs Bev Moore to that position on Thursday, 26 February 2015.

The Rangiora High School Board of Trustees was advised by the Ministry of Education in November 2014 to contract Mrs Moore as a Specialist Adviser to advise them on matters of Employment and Personnel.  The Board’s expectation was that Mrs Moore would provide them with a report by Wednesday, 18 February 2015.  However Mrs Moore did not provide the Board with her report, instead she provided that report to you in January 2015.

The Board had a legitimate expectation that Mrs Moore would follow an open, impartial and transparent process.  She did not.  Mrs Moore’s Specialist Adviser’s Report is a deeply flawed document.  In her capacity as adviser to the Board Mrs Moore had a duty to consider a range of opinions and perspectives and a variety of relevant data.  She did not.  Her report lacks impartiality, is heavily biased and does not adhere to the principles of natural justice.

Mrs Moore failed to disclose to the Board the matters of concern raised in her report prior to releasing the report to you.  The Board was given no opportunity to peruse the report, or to respond to the matters raised by Mrs Moore before you advised the Minister.  The result being that the Minister made a significant decision, affecting the educational outcomes of the 1800 students of Rangiora High School and the school’s community without full knowledge of the facts.

[Peter: Have you comprehended the enormity of what you have done here? At your initiative you imposed on the Board (though it accepted it in somewhat puzzled good faith and grace) a Mrs Moore, designated Specialist Adviser on Employment and Personnel, to advise the Board, on matters no-one is quite sure about, by Wednesday, 18 February 2015. But this Mrs Moore failed to do, instead, she sent the report to you. You did not put a stop to this improper process because you were fully implicated in the imbroglio from the beginning. Your argument that the concerns were of such great urgency and high drama that they had to be rushed to the Ministry for attention is ludicrous. Your argument that the Special Adviser be appointed Commissioner posthaste as a result of the concerns put forward don’t stack up in themselves, let alone in being largely fabrications. Is it a Bird … Is it a Plane … No it’s Mrs Moore – the Specialist Adviser on Employment and Personnel flying in from Wellington. The Specialist Adviser on Employment and Personnel hurtled to Commissioner in spectacular style – the concerns must have been of transcendent import. Was there fraud uncovered or in the offing? Were the teachers and children unsafe? Were the teaching programmes in a shambles? Were mass walkouts threatened? Were parents marching in the street? Was there no workable Board of Trustees available? Was the principal an incompetent?

What were the concerns again? 

Your Ministry Peter has undertaken a swindle and you and the Ministry are going to be stopped. Your greatest protection is that the swindle is so outrageous as to be difficult to account for – but a swindle it is, and a swindle it will be exposed for and, I hope, a swindle you and Hekia will go down for.

Only a swindle will explain all the facts.

Your arguments for not reporting to the Board as demanded by regulation, proper process, and natural justice are ridiculous. 

The only real concern for the school was a Ministry intent on robbing the school blind and trying to get away with it by sacking the Board, gagging the principal, and making a feast of concerns from a few crumbs.

The report subsequently revealed and heavily redacted was a shocker in its triviality, erroneous to its core – if the Board had seen it, and the situation by your actions hadn’t been so fraught, it would have had a good laugh. Your rush to smear and gag the Principal, dismiss the Board, and appoint a Commissioner could have only one explanation – a raid on the School’s funds.

Now let us sum up Peter? A Mrs Moore is asked by you to go to Rangiora High to advise on Employment and Personnel and given a date to report to the Board, she doesn’t do that, she goes on a bit of a hunt, finds nothing, but reports on it anyway, but not to the Board as set out in the terms of her agreement, but to you, and bingo! she is made a Commissioner of a High School. Wow! Peter – is this post-modern administration? think this will be a winner at the Employment Court? So we have a person being appointed Commissioner in a twinkle on her own report with no reporting to the Board. Do you feel the Commissioner was just a teensy wee bit overly involved in her own appointment? Perhaps, not so much post-modern as Soviet-styled. Was the Principal gagged and the Board disappeared? Did little rumours get started and not quashed? Little rumours of financial mis-management? of the Principal going overseas to speak at a conference without authority? or even if she did go overseas with authority – to present her doctorate on Maori learning at an ethnicity conference – what value was that to Rangiora High School? (It seems Mrs Moore is much more than a Specialist Adviser on Employment and Personnel – watch out Susan?)]

Mrs Moore has been Commissioner for exactly one year today.  During that time she has not addressed the significant concerns communicated by you to the Minister in 2015.  That is because those concerns were a fabrication.  Instead, Mrs Moore has attempted to exit the Principal.  Mrs Moore suspended the Principal ten months ago alleging she had released confidential documentation to the media following Mrs Moore’s official gagging of her in February 2015, and that she had provided her with incorrect Minutes of the final Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, 18 February 2015.  Both allegations were fallacious and remain unproven all these months later.  Mrs Moore spent in excess of $300,000 of school moneys in 2015.  Most of that money has been spent on advisers and investigations into the Principal.

You made the Minister vulnerable because you did not make her aware that Mrs Moore’s Specialist Adviser’s report had not been provided to the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees prior to their dissolution.  You have made the Minister vulnerable because you did not make her aware that the Board had not been provided with an opportunity to scrutinise Mrs Moore’s Specialist Adviser’s report or make a response to it prior to her decision to dissolve the Board.   This lack of process denied the Board their right to natural justice.  You have made the Minister vulnerable because you have allowed an employment issue to escalate at the Rangiora High School resulting in community outrage and a national petition for the reinstatement of the Principal.

This matter must be resolved before Mrs Moore moves to dismiss the Principal, which will result in public and lengthy legal proceedings which will obviously embarrass and compromise the Minister.

[I tried to warn you Peter – I laid it out for you to encourage a settlement to be made, (essentially Peggy to get her job back). I was trying to be constructive: to stop the pain to Peggy and the school; to get the building programme going which has been delayed by the Commissioner’s incompetence; to avoid any more disruption to classroom programme development; and to protect the schools assets from being appropriated. But you did not take up the offer. You knew what you were involved in Peter – you knew where it was heading, but you did nothing. For that, at the risk of sounding ungracious, I hope there are consequences.]

Yours sincerely

Kelvin Smythe

Former Senior Inspector of Schools

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13 Responses to Part 2 Rangiora is about the school’s assets: in which I set out to nail Peter Hughes

  1. Kelly-Ned says:

    Well done Kelvin. A startling set of revelations. I thought the Listener article this week was fairly good – especially when considered amongst the current standard of journalism we have to endure in this country. It certainly left space for a lot of key questions to be asked.
    Keep up the great work.

  2. Phil T says:

    She is lucky to have you in her corner. Sometimes even the brightest of people are to close to the events to think things through rationally and having a razor sharp mind battling for you is a huge advantage

  3. Ay-up, by-gum says:

    Here Here Kelvin. You have pretty much hit the nail on the head. Peggy is simply a innocent victim, a scape goat & in the eyes of the MoE simply collateral damage. They wanted the schools funds (farm sale) & what we are now seeing is the MoE at its worst or best depending on your view point! this sort of MoE mentality & behaviour is without doubt the most heinous of acts. The big question now is; who is really bothered & who (& how) will take a stance against the MoE. Many will support Peggy but unless she goes totally public then her employment battle will go on behind closed doors & the MoE will win even if that means paying Peggy off with a sizeable sum and having the acquisitions revoked. The MoE have got what they wanted and now its just a matter of damage control! Sickening isn’t it.
    For those of you who would like to see any sort of justice then a big concerted effort & big waves of disruption & political noise are the only things that will get any sort of reaction let alone a result from the MoE. Sadly, the writing is on the wall.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Love the nom de plume. A deal with Peggy would still represent a big loss for the ministry. But I agree we do want the whole dirty business to be exposed. I would be happy though for Peggy and the school if a deal was done. The ministry is losing this one and publically. The Listener article has brought the case out of the shadows. A deal would be a loss to them. And there’s Marlene Campbell’s court of appeal case decision to come. We await all of it with interest.

  5. Tony Westrupp says:

    This is the most alarming post I have ever read Kelvin. What a shocking set of revelations and nothing can be done? There is no one in authority in education that can be trusted! It makes me sick. What a way to start the week.

    Cheers
    Tony Westrupp ANZEI

    Principal
    Kaukapakapa School

    P 09 420 5477
    M 021 344 225

    “Kaukapakapa School students will have a strong foundation in numeracy and literacy, thus preparing them for the ongoing journey to further education, equipped with the confidence and self esteem to become good citizens.”

    • poled says:

      The sentence about the hopes for the children of Kaukapakapa homes in on something that strikes me about the actions of those in the Ministry in the Rangiora situation and the Minister.

      Every day thousands of teachers go into their schools with the aim of helping turn out citizens who are thoughtful, caring, considerate, fair, truthful and moral and who in life’s ordinary doings will act ethically. When the behaviour of officials in high places and politicians is the antithesis of those positives and bullying is another of their characteristics, what hope is there for teachers? Do they say, “Forget all that stuff, they’re not important”?

    • Kelvin says:

      Good on ya Tony!

  6. Who was it who said today, ” I was present in my role as the Leader of the National Party not the Prime Miniser, so the Natonal Party will pay the settlement.” Isn’t he a multi-millionnaire???

    Well I was in present in my role as Principal of Rangiora High School … But I have to pay my own legal fees. There will be no deal!! There will be no silence!! The truth will set us free … “On the balance of probability” – what rubbish!!

    He who has the deepest pockets wins – and I don’t have access to the public purse, the gravy train or the public trough!!

    Thanks for your support Kelvin, you are the people’s champion!!

    • Graeme Lawrey says:

      You can also depend upon the “silent majority” to help with dollars for your fighting fund.
      The whole business is an absolute disgrace and should be put to right. Just let us know how we can help.

      • 111peggyb says:

        Thank you Graeme. I wasn’t trying to imply that I expect people to help me financially. I was highlighting how our elected representatives – the people who technically work for us – spend public money recklessly without any thought of the bottom line. For me and my family; and every other Principal who has gone through this nightmare, there is definitely a bottom line. Perhaps that’s why so many “have to,” not “choose to” give up. No one puts this in their annual family budget or plans for it in their retirement package!!

  7. ianmac40 says:

    Huge effort from you Kelvin. The Ministry machine is devastating when running amok. It crushes everyone in its path and in this case the good folk of Rangiora High, and the lynching of Peggy Burrows.
    I wonder if Peter was acting under instructions from higher up? Will he become a fall guy when this all collapses around him? Good wishes Peggy.

  8. Kelvin says:

    Yes – he was. Probably a good guy but his supposed charm is used to serious ill-effect. When it comes down to it he is at the centre of this terrible behaviour and has to wear it. There would be some who could and would draw a line – he hasn’t.

  9. Jamie Smith says:

    Unbelievable, the length that the commissioner is going to to create support for her intentions. If one has dug a hole you are having trouble exiting from you generally stop digging, not this lady. As for the sob story about the old buildings, this shows her lack of understanding, the Ministry provides the basics (building, teachers) the board the flash nice to haves. The commissioner was trying the emotion game..

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