Merl Grove débâcle deepens
Education ministry intervenes in financial running of school; 50 teachers resign in five yearsTuesday, September 14, 2021
BY DESMOND ALLEN
The débâcle at the church-run Merl Grove High School deepened yesterday with revelations that the education ministry late last year had to intervene in the financial running of the institution, and that 50 teachers, most disgruntled, had resigned over the past five years.
Described by board Chairman David Hall as “an alarming rate of attrition”, the latest departures saw five teachers leaving in the week leading up to the reopening of schools on September 6, further aggravating an already tenuous vacancy situation.
Hall told the Jamaica Observer that Merl Grove High — operated by the Associated Gospel Assemblies at Constant Spring Road in St Andrew — had lost 50 teachers in the past five years by way of resignations for a variety of reasons, but mainly over their dissatisfaction with operations at the school.
“The number includes some senior teachers and it is not a good look,” said Hall, who is currently embroiled in an ugly quarrel that has split the Merl Grove community asunder and led to the controversial suspension of Principal Dr Marjorie Fullerton.
Hall took over as chairman of the board of management in April this year and seemingly inherited a long-running series of internal battles and governance issues that centred on Fullerton and a group of teachers 'led' by Vice-Principal Loretta Ricketts.
But rather than quell the discord, Hall found himself at the centre, reportedly largely backing Ricketts and her supporters and alienating Fullerton, who has the support of past students and parents of the all-girls school.
The past students, mostly activists for their alma mater in overseas chapters of the Merl Grove High School Past Students' Association, are solidly with Fullerton, noting the fact that under her tenure Merl Grove had moved up in the secondary schools ranking, from 30th to 17th.
They craft the fallout at the school as a fight between a modern, visionary, hard-working principal who is devoted to her students, and a group of old-timers who talk more than perform, but have the backing of church-aligned directors, including Hall.
The past students' chapters in Toronto, New York, and Jamaica, as well as the Parent-Teachers Association on September 10 launched an online petition which, up to Observer press time, had received over 900 signatures, calling for Fullerton's reinstatement.
Fullerton was suspended by the board three days after returning from a summer break, accused of overturning plans for the school reopening which were put in place by her detractors behind her back.
Administrators and directors opposed to Fullerton questioned how she could have gone to the United States on a break so close to the reopening of school.
A hearing has been called for September 21, 2021 which the Ministry of Education is expected to attend. Fullerton is likely to be represented by her lawyer, according to usually reliable Observer sources.
The hearing will also take place against the backdrop of a confidential report by the education ministry that painted an unflattering picture of alleged messy financial arrangements that exposed school funds to misappropriation.
The ministry team, led by Acting Regional Financial Controller Ellen Ritchie, spent four days in November last year looking into the school's accounts and issued a report raising alarm over the state of the books and recommending “immediate intervention”.
Among the troubling findings was that there were no receipt or indication of lodgement being made to the school's account in respect of cash amounting to $1.9 million in expenditure and $7,000 in income collected from fund-raiser(s).
“The 95th Anniversary and Gala showed expenditure totalling $1,916 994.50 across three accounts and income totalling $7,000.00 in November 2019. This needs to be investigated,” the report said.
“The management of cash was not in keeping with the requirements of FAA Act regulations and proper cash control procedures,” it said. It went on to list a series of informal handling of money unsupported by the relevant documentation, risking misappropriation of the funds.
“The school records show that the last time summer school funds were lodged to the school's account was 2016/17. The school's cash book shows the sum of $878,000 lodged for 2016/17, yet canteen operation during the summer of each academic year indicated that summer school was kept each year,” the report said.
The report added that based on the management of school funds, money could have been “misappropriated for protracted periods without being detected, depriving the school of scarce financial resources; monies collected [could have been] unaccounted for; improper payments [could have been] made; [There was risk of] duplication of payment; and fraud taking place”.
The past students have alleged that the school's bursar was unqualified for the job.