Former Whanganui school principal censured for unauthorised withdrawals of almost $30,000

Former principal cites 'mental breakdown' because of stress, pressure

Former Whanganui school principal censured for unauthorised withdrawals of almost $30,000

A former principal in Whanganui has been censured after she admitted to withdrawing nearly $30,000 using the school's Visa card without authorisation.

Miriama Harmer, former principal at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi, made 117 unauthorised withdrawals totalling $29,549 between 2017 and 2019. She used some of the funds for personal purposes, while some were also used to pay wages in advanced, according to facts gathered by the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal.

The unauthorised transactions were discovered in December 2018 when a chartered accountant identified roughly $19,000 of cash withdrawals that were made without the board's approval. The concerns were raised at board meeting at the school, which included Harmer's presence, prompting the institution to organise a sub-committee to investigate the spending on the card.

Days after the meeting, however, Harmer went on a certified sick leave, before repaying $25,000 to the Kura by April 2019.

In the same month, she resigned from her employment at the Kura, with the school submitting a mandatory report about the incident to the Teaching Council.

Harmer's defence

The former principal denied intending to steal or defraud the school, attributing her actions to a "mental breakdown" that she suffered because of stress and pressure.

Harmer told the Complaints Assessment Tribunal (CAC) that she could "not remember a lot of what had happened at the time the various payments and transactions were made.

She admitted to and took responsibility for the payments that were unauthorised, while stressing that she "was not thinking things through."

She also argued that some of the payments were justified and used for things like advance salary to staff, which the tribunal said was "not the correct process" for staff to be paid.

Censure ordered

The tribunal ruled that Harmer's actions constituted serious misconduct and ordered the cancellation of her registration in addition to getting censured.

The tribunal considered her mental health struggles, as well as her immediate acceptance of liability.

It also noted that Harmer repaid $25,000 to the school, and then repaid the additional $4,000 after she was notified during a police investigation.

"In the end, the Tribunal considered that the least restrictive penalty which meets the seriousness of the case and discharges the Tribunal's obligation to the public and the teaching profession is a censure of Ms Harmer and the cancellation of her registration as a teacher," the tribunal ruled.

Harmer has not deliberately renewed her practising certificate when it expired, noting that she "did not deserve to return to teaching after her actions."

The tribunal also ordered the former principal to pay $582 to the teaching council for legal costs, as well as $4,812 to the CAC as contribution to its costs.

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