$14 billion school property portfolio not up to scratch

The school property portfolio, arguably the most complex in New Zealand, needs better management, the acting auditor-general says.

The $14 billion school property portfolio – one of the biggest publicly owned – needs better management, the acting Auditor-General says.

The Education Ministry is not using a whole-of-portfolio view of school properties for decision-making. Instead, it has relied on its staff putting business cases forward for the schools most in need of investment.

The Auditor-General’s report, Managing the school property portfolio says property funding given directly to schools for annual maintenance and renewals does not consider the type, age, condition, or use of buildings.

“This restricts the ministry's ability to make the best use of these funds because funding does not take account of actual maintenance needs,” deputy Auditor-General Greg Schollum says. 

The school property portfolio is arguably the most complex in New Zealand. The Crown owns the property and the ministry is responsible for its management along with 2100 school boards of trustees.

The Auditor-General says the properties are inextricably tied to providing effective education.

“It is important the school property portfolio is well managed and everyone involved clearly understands how to best invest in the portfolio to support educational outcomes,” Mr Schollum says.

In 2006, the ministry didn’t have a strategic plan for managing the school property portfolio. Neither did it have information on the condition of school properties, and did not know how well schools were maintaining their buildings.

Four years ago, the ministry set up Education Infrastructure Services to brush up the management of the portfolio.

However, the Auditor-General’s office says its latest investigation shows only limited consideration of property matters in the ministry's accountability documents, strategic planning, risk management and performance information framework.

Property is seen by the ministry as infrastructure supporting schools.

“There is no direct link made by the ministry to how good property management can positively affect educational outcomes. We consider that property is more than bricks and mortar. It is critical to educational success. The ministry needs to better integrate its property function with the rest of its core business,” Mr Schollum says.

During the investigation, 39 schools were asked for their views on school property matters and the support the ministry gives them.

“Schools have a limited understanding of the ministry's property strategy but are generally clear on their day-to-day responsibilities for managing school property.

“Some of the responsibilities are often delegated to external property planners and project managers. However, most schools we talked to felt they needed more training and support in property matters.

Property is an important part of the school boards' and principals' role, and they need to be better equipped to carry out this role,”

The Auditor-General’s report includes eight recommendations for the ministry including fully integrating school property matters with the ministry’s functions; developing and promoting the use of its whole-of-portfolio view of the schools property portfolio's condition; identifying schools not maintaining their property to the required standards, finding out why and increasing the capability and capacity of school property advisers.

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