Schools hurting from non-payment of fees

Schools hurting from non-payment of fees

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 11, 2020

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SCHOOLS are reporting a significant reduction in the percentage of students who have paid fees or contributions for the Christmas term, which officially began virtually on October 5.

The school administrators shared that though schools were not physically in session, there are a number of costs that the fees are used to cover in order to keep the physical infrastructure operating at an acceptable standard.

The fees, often charged on a yearly basis, help to absorb some costs like security, student insurance, stationary, cleaning and sanitisation and information and communications technology (ICT) operations. But, the onslaught of COVID-19 had impacted the cash inflows.

Added to that, some schools reported that recent pronouncements by Education Minister Fayval Williams telling parents to use the contributory fees to purchase devices, books and data plans for education purposes, had impacted the income for schools.

At Meadowbrook High, Principal Kevin Facey said so far, excluding Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), welfare and civil servants' students, approximately 25 per cent of students had paid the school fee in full, compared to 45 per cent who paid in academic year 2018/2019. Most of those contributions, he said, have come from the Sixth Form Programme.

Nadine Molloy, principal at Ardenne High said, while she had not worked out the percentages, they were below where they would have been with collections at this point in time.

Albert Corcho, Calabar High principal, shared that around 40 per cent of students had paid the contributions compared to a 70 per cent payment last year.

Owen Speid, principal at Rousseau Primary, said approximately 18 per cent of students had paid the contributory fee.

Moreover, the principals acknowledged that many parents were having challenges, but pointed out that while the fees have never been mandatory, they help to offset a number of operational costs, which increased since COVID-19 hit home in March.

Facey said that when schools reopened in July to accommodate grades 11, 12 and 13 students for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations preparation, $1.3 million was spent over the three weeks they accessed the campus.

“The ministry sent us $1 million for sanitisation and deep cleaning but we spent $1.3 million, so we already had a $300,000 deficit even with their contribution...They have given, but it doesn't cover all expenses incurred. We have to ensure the plant, equipment and furniture are secured. We have to ensure the lights and surveillance system are operational. Maintenance must be there in the event the ministry says schools must reopen, we are ready for that. We have those expenses and there are salaries to be maintained. We also take care of non-government staff,” he said.

“We understand parents have challenges and we try to work with them, but I don't think parents understand that to be able to provide Zoom classes, Internet classes and materials, it is a cost we have to bear. We have to allow some teachers to come in and use the facility. We still have costs and these may impact our ability to deliver services. Our hope is that parents will contribute, but we cannot demand that,” Facey went on.

Similarly, Speid said some teachers have to utilise the school compound to conduct online classes and as a result costs associated with sanitising and maintaining the school had to be covered.

“Many don't have Internet connections at home and so one and two will come and use these areas. Parents are still coming onto the premises to pick up books. They still have clerical staff and ancillary workers are still there so they don't shed a lot of the cost. The ministry is only providing $150,000 for the year for maintenance at the primary level. By the time you have reopened school for the new school year all of that is depleted. We wanted to provide additional space if we had face-to-face and just the painter alone charged $150,000. That would be all the ministry provided. The ministry takes care of light and water, but the subvention is woefully small. What we get per student at the primary level is $2,500 per student, per year. If you work out per term that's probably $800 and less than 20 per cent pay the contribution fee,” he said.

Meanwhile, Corcho said while income had gone down, there were some expenses the school had not incurred because school was not physically in session.

“There are expenses we would have carried out that we have not done because school is online so there is some equilibrium. One example is printing. We are not printing as much but we do a little printing as some who don't have equipment, we have worked out for them to come in and pick up lessons,” Corcho said.


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