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Schools Struggling To Collect Fees From Parents As Covid-19 Lockdown Pinches Pockets

Primary and high schools have historically had a problem collecting fees from parents, but this has worsened since the lockdown.

While some parents have been exempt from paying their children’s fees at government schools, others have either paid what they could afford, or have chosen not to pay.

But since the lockdown, the school fee collection rate has become concerning for principals and school governing bodies (SGBs).

The POST spoke to the principals and SGBs at 30 schools in Merebank, Pietermaritzburg, Verulam and KwaDukuza (Stanger), and the collection rate so far has ranged from 0% to 35%. One school is, however, going against the grain and hopes to collect 50% by September.

Some principals and SGBs have said the government was not doing enough to help them.

MEREBANK

  • A high school principal said while their collection rate was 30%, it had enough savings to maintain the school for the next two years.

The principal said that unlike other schools in the area, it was financially stable.

“Over the past 14 or 15 years, we have been saving whatever we could, and we will use those funds when we need to.”

The fees are R2 500. He said the school received minimal cleaning products from the Department of Education and the school ended up buying detergents and hand sanitisers. He said the department should have kept to their promise and provided them with adequate cleaning agents so they would not have had to use their savings.

While the school has been advised to claim for the money spent, the principal claimed the school had not yet been reimbursed.

  • The chairperson of the SGB at a primary school said: “Most of the children are from single-headed homes, and during the lockdown many parents lost their jobs, or their working hours were reduced and their wages were adjusted accordingly.

“We reduced the fee from R2 100 to R1 100. We told the parents that if they paid this amount by the end of September, we would clear their historical debt with us. Our collection rate has since increased from 30% to 50%. We hope this will continue to improve as we approach September.”

He said the government could assist it by paying the school’s utility bills or adding their school to the department’s nutritional programme.

The principal said the department should stop using R80 000 from the school’s R140 000 annual allocation for textbooks.

“If this stops, we can save for a rainy day.”

PIETERMARITZBURG

  • A high school principal said the school had collected 10% of the fees (R2 800).

“Parents are under the perception that schools are closed, so they don’t need to pay. We have had to dip into our reserves to pay the electricity bill last month.”

He said the reserve funds would be depleted in two months if the school continued to pay the utility bills and that they would have to terminate the contracts of SGB-appointed teachers.

“We need cleaning staff now more than ever, but how will we pay them?

“Will the teachers have to increase their workload by taking over these duties? The government should remove all the various portfolios that serve no value. Too many people are holding high-ranking positions, and their salaries can be diverted to aid education.”

  • A primary school principal said the school had received 10% of the fees (R1000 a year) since March.

“Despite making ourselves available and continuing to ensure the children do not fall behind with their studies, parents are not paying, which is impacting our running cost.

“The monthly utility bills range between R15000 and R16000. We have to still pay the telephone account and for internet access, as well as for photocopying study booklets.

“Since the lockdown, we could not hold fund-raising events. Had there not been a pandemic, we projected we could have raised about R200 000.”

She said the school now used funds from its money market account to meet their expenses. The school has 14 SGB -appointed teachers and six cleaning and maintenance staff.

“If the government paid their salaries, at least, this would make a difference. The ministers and MECs should take salary cuts, and those funds should be diverted to education.”

VERULAM

  • The SGB chairperson of a secondary school said the collection rate was 10%.

She said despite the school being ranked Quintile 4 (least poor) they serviced eight informal settlements.

Some of the pupils were from child-headed or single-parent households, or their parents and caregivers depended on government grants, and could not afford the fees (R1 800 a year). Half of the pupils at the school, she said, were exempt from paying fees.

The school is now using the money meant for the construction of a school hall to meet its expenses.

The school has appealed to the government to help pay for security on the premises, more cleaning staff and funding for SGB staff. Most of these expenses are paid for with the money made from the school fees.

  • A secondary school principal said that historically, the school would have collected about 50% in fees at this time of the year, but its collection rate was 35%.

“Parents feel that because their children are not coming to school, they should not have to pay. What they don’t realise is that teachers are still putting together study packs, making sure their marking is up to date, and pupils are on track with their work.”

He said monthly expenses averaged R150 000, and the majority of income was derived from Grade 8 registrations in 2021.

“We have money going out faster than it is trickling in. Thankfully, I have smart financial management, but expenses are quickly eating into our reserves.”

The school fee is R2750 per pupil. He asked that government review the subsidy given to schools and provide a rebate for utility bills.

KwaDukuza

  • A high school principal said: “The word ‘difficult’ seems like an understatement to describe the situation we are in. We have not received any school fees since the lockdown. Even though some parents still received their salaries, they have chosen not to pay.”

He said school fees were R4 000 a year, and because of that loss, the school had to lay off seven of their 10 SGB-appointed teachers.

“We initially reduced their salaries, but eventually we had to let them go. Six of our Grade 12 teachers have applied, and are working from home because of comorbidities. Teachers from the lower grades have had to double up, as the matric pupils are back at school.

“Whether they are capable or not remains irrelevant. I wish the government had a more hands-on approach to the situations in schools.”

  • A primary school principal said that the government giving parents the option not to send their children to school contributed to the 0% fee collection rate. The fees are R4 200 a year.

“While we understand that most of our pupils are raised by parents who rely on social grants, some are not paying even though they have money.

“The cleaners and temperature-screeners have not been paid since June, despite the government promising that they would pay them. It is unfair.

“I have queried this with the department, but they complain of a backlog. In the interim, there is no solution.”

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