It is always interesting, perplexing when our leaders enlighten the masses on how progressive and prosperity conscious we ought to be. The two ‘P’s’ cannot be achieved without understanding one of the basic tenants in life, which is, ‘nothing in life is free’. If it is freeness appears to prevail, at what cost? Can we be honest here and talk di tings without political overtones. Where has free healthcare taken us? When you cannot afford to update antiquated lifesaving machines, do you really think it is time to play politics? When you cannot replace ‘pop down’ hospital beds if there are any available, what does that say? Education and healthcare are vital needs for a society that is developing. Yes, I say developing as there are parts across this Island where the two will leave you in a state of total distress.
Ironic it is that we love to go back three decades and talk about free education failing to outline what tools were required back then. Black board, chalk and flogging were the order of the day. Nowadays, if you do not get your school computerised, children walking around with smart phones, you are told you need to step up the progress moving the children in the direction of modern day learning. So who exactly is going to pay for that? Are modern day educational tools being purchased from the dollar store? Do we have a dollar store on the Roc? What do you expect the principals to do? Spend half of their time begging money from pillow to post? U si dat is our problem. Wi dress to puss foot in di latest vehicles an walk from corner to corner a beg money, beg, beg, beg. A set of beggars wi have become an expect odder people to pay fi wi livity.
Time to eradicate that belief system and keep it real for our citizens. Those who claim they cannot pay for their children’s school tuition, take a long hard look at their wigs, weaves, nails, extended eye lashes etc. A few adornments that many are committed to maintaining weekly, or two weeks the most. What is the average costs for such beautification? I daresay it costs far more than what is required for them to be committed to paying for their stock in life. You have your child, children and it is your responsibility minimum wage earner or not to ensure you make a commitment to pay for their education. We have aired programmes on TV, articles in the daily mail of persons who came from poor backgrounds. The sacrifices that were made to ensure they completed their education not seeking a free handout as their norm. That right there is what you call self-pride placed in the right direction. It is one thing to help someone now and again, but a movement of supporting freeness at the expense of those who truly struggle to get the best out of their education is bordered on cruelty.
You talk about quality educators, quality dis and quality dat. Demanding the best from a zero dollar plate expecting a plate full. Shameful this is and anyone who is not on medication who prescribes and endorses this kind of pill, needs to be medicated immediately. As someone said to me, ‘a now u ago si dunce bat’.
Government can barely pay dem light bill an dem manage money. Imagine di school dem light bill payment schedule wen disya madness is implemented. Dat a jus one issue, not to mention di wata bill.
There is a sense of uncertainty in the education sector as principals await the new tuition policy to be implemented in the next academic year.
Recently, Minister of Education, Youth and Information Ruel Reid, announced that secondary schools will receive an increase in the Government’s subvention provided to support its operation. Up to $19,000 per student has been promised to administrators — a $7,500 increase from what is currently provided.
The minister also instructed that schools no longer charge auxiliary fees, reasoning that it has become too taxing on parents.
But when the Jamaica Observer spoke with some administrators, they had reservations, noting that auxiliary fees play an important role in the efficient operation of the institutions.
“We are not averse to the Government financing education; my concern is the Government’s ability to sustain such an initiative,” Marsha Smalling, principal at the Glenmuir High School said.
“Usually, it’s the auxiliary fees for the most part that supplement the tuition budget, so when you remove that you can understand that there are going to be several deficiencies,” Smalling stated.
The parents of a grade 7 student at Glenmuir are required to pay $13,900 in auxiliary fees while other students pay $11,500.
With a 90 per cent compliance rate, the school’s budget for tuition fees amounts to roughly $46 million dollars. From this, the administrator explained, additional ancillary and administrative workers and security guards are employed.
“There are some members of staff who will lose their jobs because usually they are paid from this amount of money,” Smalling reasoned. “There are certain programmes that will be impacted — our student enhancement programme, sports and other co-curricular activities. Security is also going to be impacted; the maintenance of our labs will be impacted as well.”
At the Ardenne High School, where students are required to pay $18,000 toward a development fund, an inflow of $38 million is expected annually.
Principal Nadine Molloy told the Sunday Observer that these funds are imperative as the Government subvention is usually just enough to cover the school’s utilities per annum — which amounts to roughly $20 million.
The auxiliary fee she argued, funds additional projects and, as at Glenmuir, pays additional employees not provided for by the Government.
“The ministry does not give us a systems administration team; we employ a systems administration team from other income. The person who monitors the computers upstairs in the library, that person is on other income. In order to offer all the subjects here we have about five persons we pay from other income. We pay one extra guidance counsellor from other income as well. We have to fund the sickbay, we have to maintain the gym around there for PE; roughly 310 computers-they have to be maintained,” Molloy listed as she highlighted the importance of the auxiliary fee.
Sharing the same sentiment of his colleagues, Ray Howell, principal at the Edith Dalton James High School welcomed the increase.
“The $11,500 now that they give the school has not increased over the past many years and therefore, my take on it is that moving it to $19,000 is just a catch-up, and therefore that is the real cost now for Government subsidy. So the $11,500 should have moved up incrementally; it has not been moving over the past 5 or so years as I can recall,” he stated.
“If you check the inflation rate over the period of time it only brings you back to where you ought to be at this time. So, the $19,000 that the minister had indicated cannot effectively run all the school programmes and with the serious economic constraint, I believe that parents can support the students,” he continued.
At his institution, students are required to pay $12,000 in auxiliary fees, which he said is a challenge to some parents as only 47 per cent are compliant thus far.
Currently, just over $15 million is owed to the institution. Howell said he’s been forced to make ends meet and budgets for no more than 50 per cent compliance each year.
But the money collected goes a far way.
“To be frank, all the development I have done here — we call it special project development over the past 10 years — a part of that comes from auxiliary fees. Usually when the money comes from the Government it finishes in a few weeks, so by the end of September you have to do maintenance and you cannot predict the maintenance,” the administrator noted.
LESS THAN $19,000 PER STUDENT
“As we understand it no school will get $19,000 per student,” Molloy, said.
“You going to get it based on how many students you have doing tech voc (technical and vocational subjects) … which is about a third of our students;… a portion of it is based on how many students you have on PATH and Ardenne only has about 145 students on PATH; and the students who get under 50 per cent in Math and English, they get more and the lunch is going to come out of it as well.”
In his first pronouncement the minister outlined that the ministry would develop a formula to ensure that there was equity in the amount of subvention to each school towards tuition. The funding formula he said would be aimed at achieving several objectives:
(1) Provide the highest level of available funding to schools that receive students with the lowest level of academic achievement on entry, and to schools where the majority of students are from the poorest socio-economic condition.
(2) Through more equitable funding schools will be able to allocate the staffing and resources required to meet the needs of the students they serve.
(3) The allocation of budget for a school for each academic year should reflect the student enrolment for that particular year and any changes to the school population. As the conditions/situation of students change the budget allocated for staffing in that school must change within an adequate time period.
(4) However, schools will not be permitted to enrol more than the number of places permitted by the Ministry
(5) Reflect the nature of the plant and site, the curriculum offer and the health and safety of students and staff.
He further reasoned that the new policy is to strike a balance in the education sector.
But like Molloy, Smalling believes the criteria will leave some students disadvantaged and underfunded.
“For example for the social premium we have from our population size of 1700 students we have 533 students who are on the PATH programme so we will only get that $2,000 towards social premium. For the student premium, we only have 350 students who will qualify for that $2,000. For the curriculum premium we have 540 students who would qualify for that additional $2,000. So I’m saying that not all the students will benefit from the increased amount that the minister articulated and so there is going to definitely be a shortfall,” Smalling told the Sunday Observer.
“Yes we are told that we should still request from parents to continue to make their contributions, our concern is that we will not receive total compliance from the parents because if they are given an option then naturally it’s either I want to pay or I do not want to pay and if that maintains we are going to find ourselves in a financial crisis,” she continued.
“For last year we actually requested from the parents an additional voluntary contribution of $2,000 and the compliance for that voluntary contribution was probably about 20 per cent,” Smalling said as she spoke of the viability for parent contribution.
“What we are concerned about is that parents will hear about free education and not quite understand how important the parent portion of the contribution is to the operations of the school, not make that contribution and then we end up in a situation where we have to reduce the amount of resources that we have, in other words we can’t fund all of our services,” expressed Molloy.
Not daunted, the administrators have already engaged their Parent Teachers Association (PTA) to encourage the continued partnership.
“As it now stands Glenmuir has a rich legacy of excellence not just in academic excellence but excellence in the performing arts, excellence in sports, excellence in terms of the quality professional development that we provide for our staff, excellence in terms of affirmation and so it is important that the parents continue to support the initiatives of the school, Smalling when asked of her next move.
“Our job now is to mobilise the parents and to try to convince them that it is necessary for them to continue to make those contributions and I’m really hoping that everything works out as planned and articulated by the Government and we will do everything we can to support the Government’s position and for us to have our school running in an efficient and effective manner,” she continued.
Principal Howell, accepting the reality said he will have to find a way to ensure the continued development of the school.
“I will have to live with whatever I get. It’s not the amount of money you get in life enuh, because take for instance Edith Dalton get like any other school but we have doubled the school plant since the past 10 years while some schools don’t do anything with the same amount of money so it’s a matter of your own talents and utilising your resources,” he stated.
“I am not going to get into the quarrel but utilise them to the grace of God. Auxiliary fees can assist but is not the money you get but it’s what you do with the money,” Howell continued.
Of Ardenne, Molloy said “we are going to use every avenue possible to let the parents understand what it is about the resources that they help us to provide that makes Ardenne outstanding. It can’t happen without the parents.”
She said along with the PTA executive she will outline to the parents the school’s budget, highlighting in even greater detail the financial reports.