Schools say they are crucial for reports, cleaning, security

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 23, 2000

Some schools continue to advertise registration fees, parents' subscriptions and contingency fees as a condition for entry inspite of President Bharrat Jagdeo's announcement that all such fees must be voluntary.

At three city schools yesterday Stabroek News observed such notices. Dolphin Secondary said that parents' contribution as a condition of registration was $2,500. At Brickdam Secondary the sum of $2,700 was required for a jersey, report books, a badge and contingencies; at St Gabriel's the `registration fee' was $1,000, badge $100 and report book $200.

A number of headteachers and education officials yesterday told Stabroek News that they were somewhat disappointed with the President's announcement as it goes against what the schools are promoting in terms of community involvement in the care, growth and development of the schools.

The officials, who preferred to remain anonymous, expressed concern that the President's announcement was more like a directive that no one should pay the contingency fees. This, they said, will hamper the school's programmes as schools countrywide receive inadequate funding from government for sanitation and security and incidental needs.

Many parents have welcomed the President's announcement that contingency fees should be voluntary and that no child should be denied an education because of his or her inability to pay.

While most parents have welcomed the news that the contributions would be monitored by the Ministry of Education and the Teaching Service Commission, some have suggested that the contingency fund should be mandatory. However, they feel that there should be provision for categories of students to be completely exempted from paying contingencies. They also suggested proper accountability for such funds.

The President's announcement came one week after Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Ed Caesar reiterated that contributions to the fund were voluntary. However, he had emphasised its usefulness in the effective management of schools. He also issued `Contingency Fund Guidelines' for nursery, primary and secondary schools.

According to the guidelines, contributions for the two-year nursery programme should be $700; primary $1,000 on admission and $500 on entry to primary three; $1,500 on admission to secondary and $1,000 thereafter. For siblings attending the same school the sum shall be paid in full for the first child; 75% for the second; 50% for the third; 25% for the fourth and no contribution for any other. No contribution is expected from children from orphanages.

A year ago Caesar had announced that contribution to the fund was voluntary after parents had begun complaining that their children were not receiving report books because contingency fees had not been paid. Some, too, were denied timetables for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams or were denied results.

In some schools children were not issued with books provided by the government until the contingency was paid which in effect made the subscription compulsory.

In canvassing the views of a number of education officials and heads of schools yesterday, a senior education official told Stabroek News that as yet the regional and the Georgetown Education Departments have not communicated with schools on the President's announcement.

One education official told Stabroek News that the schools which have begun registration are already hard hit by the announcement as parents have begun to withhold payment.

At the Lodge Community High School one teacher told Stabroek News that some parents who had already registered their children had begun to seek refunds.

A number of other schools in the North Georgetown area have reported that parents are paying the contingencies without a fuss.

The official noted that accessing government funds for schools is difficult and funds can only be secured from what is approved by parliament. The Ministry of Education, Stabroek News understands, is currently preparing estimates and will be seeking an increase in expenditure for materials and supplies.

Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Hydar Ally in a release to President Jagdeo's Press Secretary, Robert Persaud refuted allegations by a teacher in Stabroek News' `What the People Say' feature on Monday that government does not support schools as it ought to and that there is not enough money to manage schools effectively.

Ally said: "the fact is that all schools receive grants to cover security, sanitary, stationery and other incidental needs. Actually there has been substantial increases in the allocation of money under Materials and Supplies, as well as under janitorial and cleaning services. As part of the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) conditionality, the allocation of resources for school supplies has increased substantially over the past years."

Ally said that the move by the President is intended to guard against abuse by the school administration, some of whom are guilty of denying children their report cards or even admission to school. There are also cases, he said, of children being ridiculed for not being in a position to pay.

He added that there is nothing to stop parents from making a contribution to schools. This must be voluntary. "A circular to this effect will be issued shortly," he stated.

However, other senior education officials said that Ally's statement pertaining to adequate funds for schools is not quite accurate as nursery schools in particular depend on the contingency to pay cleaners/sweepers as government does not pay them. The officials said that the state takes care of some cleaners/sweepers in the primary and secondary schools. However in large primary and secondary schools the schools pay additional cleaners to assist. The employment of cleaners is approved by the Public Service Management office which falls under the Office of the President. Currently, the Ministry of Education cannot employ cleaners/sweepers as government currently has a freeze on employment. Officials expressed doubt that government would want to lift the freeze for cleaners for nursery schools.

In the nursery schools, many teachers have said that often although they could ill afford it, they have been putting their hands in their pockets to assist the little children.

One official noted that for the last academic year Grade A schools in the city got six of the smallest size of bottles of Smell O' Pine disinfectant from the Ministry of Education. As this is grossly inadequate this supply is supplemented from the contingency fund. Other cleaning items purchased with contingency funds include brooms, disinfectant and toilet paper, among other items.

In many schools parents are asked to take a roll of toilet paper and bath soap to the nursery school but even this many parents do not do and the schools have to buy their own supplies.

They noted that most schools would take $1,000 per child each year and some schools especially in the south of Georgetown do not get any substantial sums of money. The most a Grade A school would get for a school year would be just about $300,000 in total as many parents do not pay. This would be mainly in the schools in the North Georgetown area which is considered the more affluent.

In relation to school report booklets, badges and other forms of identification the school uses, one headteacher said that the contingency fee is used to pay for the production of these items. One head said "no contingency, no reports." Alternatively, she said, the ministry must now provide the report books.

One head also pointed out that the contingency fee is also used to pay telephone bills as government does not cater for that expense. At present government is not even meeting its commitment in paying electricity bills for some schools on time and some schools are disconnected. The ministry has an undertaking to pay the schools' electricity bills quarterly but this is a commitment it cannot meet at all times. Some schools undertake to pay their electricity bills so as not to be disconnected. This payment is made possible because of the contingency fees, one head noted.

Another head observed that teachers will now be further taxed, especially nursery teachers, because government will expect them to clean classrooms. However, she stated, according to the job description of teachers that is not a part of their duties and such a move will cause teachers to continue leaving the system.

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