Bigger, better budget - Principal says school better off under new fee regime
There was a national outcry from school managers a year ago when the State decided to end the practice that imposed expensive, so-called auxiliary fees on students.
But at least one principal has found that his school is now better off, and that the formula worked out to cushion the loss of fees has left him with more funds to run his shop.
"Before the removal, our budget was running $31 million to $32 million for the year," said principal of Old Harbour High School, Lynton Weir. "Now our budget has moved from that to $41 million for the year."
Weir said not only does he get more from the Government, but parents continue to pay auxiliary fees, even though they don't have to.
"My auxiliary fee before the removal was $6,480, so when the government allocation moved from $11,500 to $19,000 - that was an increase of $7,500 - and the beauty about it is that I would now have 100 per cent compliance as it was the Government who will now paying that $7,500," he told Gleaner Business.
Prior to the removal, Weir says the compliance rate for parents who paid the auxiliary fees for their children fluctuated yearly between 50 and 60 per cent.
BETTER COMPLIANCE RATE
"Parents have being paying that non-mandatory fee, and to be frank with you, my compliance this year is even better. I am having about 78 per cent compliance for non-mandatory this year. And that is why I'm saying to you, we end up much better because we are able to charge the non-mandatory fee, plus we have received an increase from the ministry," said Weir.
In May 2016, Minister of Youth, Education and Information Senator Ruel Reid announced the removal of the payment of auxiliary fees to all secondary institution,s which was met with much debate on the possible implications on schools.
To fill the gap in the budget that would be caused by the removal, the Government increased funding to high schools from $2.6 billion to $5.3 billion, and replaced auxiliary fees with a non-mandatory "school support contribution" payable by parents/guardians to finance non-core activities.
The removal of auxiliary fees was meant to rein in schools that charged exorbitant fees in breach of policy directives not to overburden parents.
Weir, whose school has 2,550 students, says under the new financing regime, he has been able to improve facilities at the school to provide a better learning environment.
It allowed him to address issues of security and safety of the school by putting in grilles; improve the working conditions of administrative staff, who got their own cubicles - addressing their comfort on the job, which Weir said he expects to boost their efficiency and productivity.
Other plans are in the pipeline.
"For the upcoming school year, we have 15 projects that we'll be working on, and all these projects will be funded from the increase in the budget that we now have. Because parents are still making their non-mandatory contributions, we have put in the budget that if we receive at least 60 per cent from parents, we will be able to complete all these different projects," the principal said.
Over the summer, the staffroom for teachers will be tiled and outfitted with air conditioning.
"We're having a partnership with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica they're giving us a 30-megawatt solar unit, and that will offset the cost of electricity for the air conditioning units," Weir said.
By the time students return from their summer break, all classrooms would have been outfitted with ceiling fans; and 30 new computers are on their way for the IT department to facilitate technical drawing students, whose work is now required by CSEC examiners to be submitted using AutoCAD, instead of paper.
"Of course, we'll have to change the desks for computers, and also change doors for AC units, which is going to cost at least $3 million, which will be coming from the extra funds that the ministry has provided us with," the Old Harbour principal said.
Weir, who is also the president of the Principals Association of Jamaica, said he has been hearing similar stories from principals across Jamaica.
"When you look at the system now, it's a beautiful system ... . We are all happy as principals now because we are getting the resources," he said.
"Our job is to ensure now that we produce in terms of results, and I'm sure that the results will be better this year, and onwards."
- Sashana Small -
Gleaner Business Intern