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Covid-19: Schools Under Pressure As Fees Run Dry Due To Pandemic Biting Into Parents Pockets

Schools that generate a large portion of their income to run their affairs are under pressure as funds generated through fund-raising and fees have run dry, threatening operations and jobs.
Two KwaZulu-Natal schools, one government and another private, speaking to The Mercury on condition of confidentiality, said they had either laid off workers or were on the verge of cutting salaries.

“My school will be bankrupt by September, and many others in this area will be bankrupt by the end of the year,” said a principal at one of the schools in Phoenix, who declined to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

“We get about R30 000 a year from the department that we can use to run the school, and we need about R50 000 a month.

“Last year alone we paid about R200 000 for lights and water and in the last two months while there were no children, I was billed almost R45 000 by the municipality, but I take it that is the infamous incorrect billing.”

He said what was leading schools to financial ruin was that children had not been coming to classes, which means “we cannot charge school fees”.

“Most importantly, we cannot fund-raise through our activities like bake sale. Fund-raising is the life blood of the school. Without it we’re going to go bankrupt.

“With most of the money that we generate ourselves, I have to pay teachers employed by the governing body, clerks, cleaners and security companies.”

He said these were not just “nice to have’’.

“These positions are essential to the running of the school. We do not want to employ a security company, but our school is located in an area with a high prevalence of drug abuse and crime, so it is necessary we take steps to prevent possible breaks-in and vandalism,” he said.

The principal said since the schools reopened, he was unable to pay salaries for five employees who were employed by the school governing body, and had to let them go.

“We would like the department to step in and take over the payment for water and lights, cleaning staff and security,” he said.

Another school said it had seen a drop of 30% in tuition fee payments and 50% in boarding fee payments.

“Due to this, we have put a hold on large capex expenditure.”

It said it did not generate income from fund-raising, but from tuition and boarding fees, adding it costs about R6 million a month to run the school.

“All operational costs, including salaries of 125 full-time staff members and approximately 30 independent contractors, as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the school, are reliant on the fees.

“Staff salaries will need to be cut or not paid. As our teachers have been working additional hours to accommodate face-to-face and online teaching, this would be impractical. Teaching might have to stop.

“The boarding school would have to close. This will have an impact on 2021 too, as we would lose our house mothers and maintenance would have to cease,” it said.

Department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said some of the issues raised by the schools were genuine.

“What these schools must do is follow the department’s internal processes in raising their matters so they could receive the help they need quicker.”

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