1492057228603 - Former school principal censured for porn, financial mismanagement
Education

Former school principal censured for porn, financial mismanagement

A former school principal has been censured after pornographic images were found on his computer as part of an investigation into financial mismanagement.

Peter Witana was sacked as principal of Northland’s Kawakawa Primary School in 2014, after concerns were raised about financial practices at the school.

A subsequent audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers uncovered the porn, which he had exchanged by email with other staff members, on his school-issued laptop.

Witana admitted possessing the images, but claimed he thought of them as “raunchy”, and said most of the emails he sent or received were intended as jokes.

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The New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal took a different view, stating in its decision it was “in no doubt that the images were pornographic”.

The tribunal also expressed concern over the potential risk that students could be exposed to the material.

“He had four school-issued devices that his emails were synchronised to, and he admitted that he exchanged pornographic images by email with other members of staff,” it said in the decision.

The images were sent and received via email, and there was no evidence Witana had ever used his school laptop to search for porn on the internet.

Witana told the tribunal that since his daughters had started growing into young women, he had become more aware of the damage caused by sexualised images.

The tribunal’s decision primarily related to financial mismanagement at Kawakawa Primary School.

It found Witana had routinely used school funds for personal purchases, including petrol cards he had issued for his wife and his mother.

The money was always paid back, but in 2013 the debt reached more than $10,000 before repayment was finally made.

The tribunal said it essentially amounted to an interest-free loan that benefited Witana and his family.

Witana also allowed staff to use petrol cards for personal purchases, on the condition the money was repaid within 24 hours.

In addition, he signed blank cheques in advance, which the tribunal identified as a risky practice that could lead to financial fraud.

Witana served as principal at the school for 20 years from 1994, and also served as national president of the Maori Principals Association Te Akatea.

The tribunal acknowledged Witana was not well-versed in financial management when he became a principal.

It stopped short of banning him as a teacher, and said the charges “were not sufficiently serious to warrant cancellation of his practising certificate”.

Instead, Witana was censured and ordered to pay half of the tribunal’s costs.

For the next two years, he must inform any prospective employer of the disciplinary proceedings, and must not hold a position of leadership or financial responsibility until he can demonstrate “that he understands the responsibilities of a principal and accounting for school funds”.