Berbice private school head dies after taking poison
-amid questions over missing exam fees By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
March 31, 2004

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RVC Private Secondary School Principal, Rohan Chandisingh died yesterday at the New Amsterdam Hospital after he ingested a herbicide on Monday amid reports of his indebtedness and missing exam fees.

Chandisingh, who for several years now has been operating the school in New Amsterdam, was found in a ditch at the Esplanade on the northern edge of the town in a semi-conscious state around 3 pm.

Stabroek News understands that the well-known and respected educator had over recent months become entangled in a web of debt.

On Monday one of his creditors visited the school at LFS Burnham Street (formerly Coburg Street) and reportedly threatened him. It was shortly after this confrontation that Chandisingh left without informing anyone why, even though he had arranged a meeting with parents for 3 pm. The meeting had been arranged to discuss a possible resolution of the issue surrounding Chandisingh's failure to transmit Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) fees paid to him by parents to the Examinations Division of the Ministry of Education.

In November, 142 students had paid Chandisingh approximately $2M in entrance fees but the principal failed to transmit the funds to the division. The deadline for payments by private institutions was last October, according to a source from the Department of Education in New Amsterdam, but some concession was apparently granted for the school. However, this information was only passed on to students last Monday, March 22, by teachers. Following this disclosure a meeting was arranged for last Wednesday for parents to discuss the issue.

"At that meeting Mr Chandisingh told us that he had misused the funds and apologised for doing so. He then promised to repay us in September saying he was broke but didn't want to go to jail," one parent told this newspaper yesterday.

The majority of the parents at that meeting agreed to pay the fees for a second time while a handful said they could not afford it. One parent said she had paid $25,800 for seven subjects in November and would now have to pay $28,400, which includes a late payment fee of $2,600. The new deadline for submission of fees is today.

The school, which recently moved to its new location, is staffed by six teachers most of whom say they have not been paid since January. Accord-ing to one staff member, this has impacted on morale and discipline within the school. "Teachers lost their authority and discipline deteriorated as a result," he said.

Others argued that despite this and other problems, "students were receiving value for their money with the quality of tuition the institution was offering.

Those preparing for CXC have been adequately prepared since we have completed at least 90% of the syllabuses and are about to begin revising." They all pledged to work around the clock with the students to ensure they are fully prepared.

Students with whom this newspaper spoke gave a different impression: "Appa-rently because they were not being paid promptly some teachers stayed away from classes for protracted periods while some turned up for classes but did not teach," some said. Most said they were not fully prepared for the examinations. Those in the science stream explained that they were unable to do any practical classes because of the unavailability of a laboratory even though teachers for the relevant subjects were on staff.

Following last Wednesday's meeting, a committee comprised mostly of parents was established and it has since begun collecting fees and exploring avenues of assisting those who may be experiencing difficulties. Up to yesterday midday more than 50 parents had re-submitted payments to the committee which has undertaken to ensure that the money collected is paid to the Examinations Division by today. Teachers were optimistic that all of the 142 students would be able to sit the exams. Some parents said they were attempting to borrow the funds from relatives, friends and neighbours. Others were scrambling to the banks to make withdrawals.

According to one senior master, the "Management Committee will be responsible for running the school over the next few days and maybe weeks". But the future of the institution remains gloomy. The committee, in conjunction with teachers, has planned a meeting with parents for Friday to discuss the school's future. Yesterday, regional education officials visited the school and told this newspaper they were there merely to collect information. According to one teacher, the head had received several threats over recent weeks from creditors. One parent said "he was a very troubled man and seemed to have landed himself in deep waters".

This latest incident raises questions over the monitoring of the growing number of private schools. This newspaper was told just over a year ago that no private school in Berbice had been granted official recognition from the Ministry of Education, yet RVC has been submitting School-Based Assessments for CXC students over the years. Over the past four years the principals of at least three private schools in the region disappeared with examination fees. Unfortunately they have all been successful in evading prosecution.