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Breach of non-mandatory policy for auxiliary fees could become offence

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 31, 2018

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SENATOR Ruel Reid has indicated that the Government may make breaches of the Ministry of Education's non-mandatory policy for auxiliary fees, or parents' contributions in schools, an offence under law.

Speaking at the ministry's annual back-to-school press conference at its Kingston offices yesterday, Senator Reid said the policy remains in place for the new school year, which begins next week, but that already some schools have been called in for breaches.

“I believe in the revised regulations we could put it as an offence; that where the ministry has given directives pursuant to these things, including fees, and where administrators breach, it be a disciplinary offence, and in the JTC (Jamaica Teaching Council) Bill it could also constitute professional misconduct where persons could lose their licences,” the minister said.

He emphasised: “We have been saying to school administrators and boards, we need to regard and respect [directives]. The schools are not autonomous. We want to make it clear… if you have rules and directives, you have to abide [by them]… Where we have seen breaches, we have called in, quite privately, the board and the principals and we have asked them to reverse certain decisions.”

The minister said a sample letter has now been crafted to make it clear to parents that they are being asked for a contribution and not a compulsory payment, as in some instances, the wording of the literature given to the parents was the issue.

Senator Reid said that there is no justification for contributions from parents.

“There are no mandatory fees. What we have done, particularly for high schools, is to expand the range of financial support to our schools, particularly where schools had to require payments to pay for part-time teachers and extra staff. We are paying for all the teaching staff and support staff critical to delivering the core programme of our schools, and therefore there is no need to have auxiliary fees,” he stated.

At the same time, the minister said there have been fewer complaints than last year about auxiliary fees, and that most of the breaches were associated with rural institutions.

“They apologised, made the adjustments very quickly, and we didn't have any problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, the education minister said that the resources and preparations for a smooth start to the new school year are in place, including the first tranche of operational grants which have been dispatched to institutions. The disbursement of funds to secondary schools remains at a maximum of $19,000 per student, and special support for selected areas of up to $11,000 per student.

He said a total of $8.4 billion — including the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) feeding grant — is being provided, and that there is a budget of $4.2 billion in place for primary, all-age, and junior high schools. Additionally, the maintenance grant has moved from $50,000 to $500,000 for secondary schools.

The Government is also spending $323.1 million on salaries for additional cooks to bring the number of individuals providing that service to school canteens to 1,007. Senator Reid said there had been a weakness in the system where some schools were asking parents to pay for cooked meals for PATH students as a means of helping to cover the cost of paying the cooks. Reid said the State has now taken on that responsibility.


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