NEW DEAL? - Revised policy on boarding soon

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau ?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

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MALVERN, St Elizabeth — A new policy on boarding in schools, to be officially announced soon, will involve government assistance being given to boarders most in need, replacing the current system of broad-based subsidies, says Education Minister Andrew Holness.

Speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony for a new $94-million dormitory at Munro College last Friday, Holness said boarding should be operated as a "commercial opportunity" by schools.

The new dormitory at Munro, which will accommodate 200 boarders and is scheduled for completion by next May, is meant to address the increasing demand for boarding spaces at the 155-year-old, all-boys school. Munro currently provides boarding for 560 boys and accommodates another 500 who commute daily.

The education minister argued that government’s input, in relation to boarding at schools such as Munro, should be to support "bright" teenagers who needed the discipline of boarding, but whose economic circumstances would not allow it. While hailing the benefit to the society of Munro and other boarding institutions, he said the Government "simply could not" afford the full economic cost of operating boarding facilities.

"What Government has done in the past is to subsidise across the board the cost of boarding. That policy will change eventually. We see boarding as a commercial opportunity…" said Holness.

"What we (Ministry of Education) are proposing is that the Government, through means testing, will look for those students who are placed at boarding schools and fund their (boarding) fees to the level of the economic cost requested…

"Government has an interest in providing boarding for some students, some very bright students, talented with potential, who we are losing in our inner cities, losing in far rural outposts, losing because they are not exposed to the order and discipline that (exist) in a boarding institution. And when we identify those persons, their economic means should not prevent them from being able to access the benefits of boarding institutions," the minister said.

He claimed that with creative "partnerships" schools with the space capacity and infrastructure could develop boarding facilities at a profit.

He urged funding agencies such as banks and credit unions to "look at economic opportunities available in schools and partner with the schools, you don’t have to give cash contributions, but can give the school a special interest rate; you can waive fees …"

The education minister also encouraged principals and school boards to "look at your operations and see where you can approach a commercial institution to fund and expand" in order to facilitate boarding as a commercial venture.

"There are many parents who probably could afford boarding, who desire this as a particular kind of service, because they see the benefit of having their child in an orderly, well-run facility and the school should be able to exploit that commercial possibility," he said.

In a follow-up interview with journalists, Holness said the Government "had to commit to a framework and a policy that shows clearly that if persons in the private sector or the philanthropic sector make significant investment in boarding it will have support of the government.

"We have developed our boarding policy and that will be released shortly. In terms of investment, the Government is also exploring that. I believe there are many opportunities in boarding (because) there are parents who if boarding facilities were up to standard would opt for that".

He sought to make clear that the Government’s proposals regarding boarding was not "counter" to the core policy of free access to education. "The Government’s policy of free tuition access rests on what we call the core services of education. Boarding is over and above the core service …" said Holness.

Responding to appeals for assistance from government to fund the expansion of dormitory facilities at Munro, Holness committed his ministry to "assist" but said an actual figure would come at a later date.

Claiming that Munro was a "great school" that had contributed "tremendously" to national development and a sense of order in society, Holness said the current building initiative was in line with the Government’s drive to reignite "partnerships" in education involving philanthropy, private and public sectors.

Principal of Munro College, Albert Corcho, told the Observer West that $30 million had so far been raised through the Munro & Dickenson Trust which founded the school, and the rest would be had through a mix of options including creative fund-raising efforts involving the alumni and lending agencies.

Corcho said the expansion of dormitory facilities at Munro had become an urgent need. "Every year we have more parents asking for boarding, currently we have about 560 students boarding, when we look at the lists we have probably another 200 seeking boarding including students from Kingston, Negril, Portland …" the principal said.

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