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Tit for tat between education ministry, St Andrew High continues

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

THE board of management of St Andrew High School for Girls is countering claims made by the Ministry of Education in a media release on Monday, in which the ministry said that the school is in breach of its non-mandatory fee policy.

The school's board yesterday said that it was “appalled at the inaccuracies” in the ministry's release and stressed that it is standing by its statement sent to the media last Tuesday following remarks made by education minister, Senator Ruel Reid, who accused the school, among others, of breaching the ministry's non-mandatory fees policy — an act he likened to corruption and extortion.

The statement, issued by the school's board last Tuesday, claimed that the education ministry had outstanding payment for the school.

It said that the school has been forced to use the funds advanced by the ministry for the next academic year to cover current expenses.

The statement further read that the school had no intention of airing its concerns in the public domain; however, “with reference to the minister's demand for openness and transparency and in light of the aspersions cast on the members of the board of management and the administration”, it deemed it necessary to outline that: The ministry approved the voluntary school support contribution of $29,000 per year that is asked of parents; at no time has any student ever been turned away, denied rental books or prevented from graduating due to non-payment of fees; a comprehensive presentation on the school's finances is made to parents by the principal at every meeting of the Parent-Teachers' Association; information regarding the school finances are made available to the ministry as required; the total sum owed the institution by the Government as at May 2017 is $13,359,987.30; the registration package for GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) students entering St Andrew High School is $5,000 in accordance with the ministry's directive.

But the ministry, in the release issued on Monday, described the claims made by the school as “misleading” and insisted that the school's board was giving the public the wrong impression in its pronouncements.

It said that the ministry had expressed concerns to the school's principal, Sharon Reid, about a letter that had been signed by her and distributed to parents stating that the school was in need of funding to offset the payment of part-time teachers.

“This was misleading as it did not include the fact that $11,400,000 was provided by the ministry to cover this cost,” the media release from the ministry said.

The release added that the school had sent a reminder letter to parents advising them that charges were overdue, which the ministry said implied that students may be prevented from getting certain documents from the school if the non-mandatory contributions were not made. This, the ministry said, is in breach of its policy.

Added to that, the ministry said while the school has tried to meet the submission dates in most cases as it relates to its finances, the ministry did not receive the income and expenditure reports as requested prior to the start of the 2016/2017 school year.

“To date, those reports have still not been submitted. The regional financial controller has been in touch with the bursar who has communicated her intention to submit the document.

“In respect to the claim for outstanding salaries, the ministry is aware, based on discussion with the principal, that the contracts of 14 teachers were not processed in time to support her request for locum tenens for the period 2015-2017.

“The regional office intervened and this resulted in nine of the contracts being processed and sent back to the school to support their claims for locum tenen. The remaining five files have been delayed due to further processing by Evaluation Qualification Committee (EQC), which advises on the accreditation of the degrees of the teachers and how to pay these teachers.

“In the interim, steps were taken for the outstanding sum to be advanced to the school whilst the claims are being processed. The principal is aware of this arrangement,” the ministry said.

The ministry said with respect to the part-time support, the submitted claims were for a total of $10,066,927.86 for part-time funding for September 2016-March 2017. It said that a decision was taken to send $3,523,282.74 of this amount to the school and it is at the Accountant General's Department for processing. The claims for April to May have been received by the regional office and is being verified for further processing and subsequent payment, the ministry said.

“The ministry wants to ensure that we provide all the support necessary for our schools' administrators and students to be fully accommodated in the best way possible, to allow for the smooth reopening and full operation of school for all our valued stakeholders,” the ministry said.

In the meantime, the school said that it has written to the minister and is awaiting an invitation to a meeting of memorandum from the regional director dated August 2, 2017.