Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Cruel Ruel

Published:Sunday | August 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

To understand the extent of Minister Ruel Reid's incompetence, you have to first understand the very simple math that he keeps toying with.

At a reasonable level, it costs somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 a year to give each student a decent high-school experience. Right now, the Government contributes $17,000 per student, and sometimes $19,000 if the student is on PATH. That's it!

One upshot is that if we intend to educate, rather than warehouse, them, schools have to find about $20,000 for each student that the Government doesn't give them, and has no plan to give them. By the way, Reid's old haunt, Jamaica College, asks for $30,000.

Of course, you are right to be thinking: "Well, if Audley would put down the phone every now and again, we could fully fund many more." You are also right to be thinking: "Maybe the schools need to grow bush in the classrooms so that the Cabinet can busy itself with emergency procedures to drop some big contracts that way." But those are other battles for other columns.

Beyond all that, education funding is the premier political football in Jamaica's national life. And as he has done before, Minister Reid was trying to kick that football. But he just miskicked, lost balance, and enacted a proper drop in the middle of the field. In the process, however, he kicked some sturdy people in their shins. It was an intentional and aggravated foul, and he deserves the red card.

Think about it. The education minister intentionally and repeatedly accused some school boards and administrations of extortion and corruption. He went on a media tour broadcasting his defamation and calumny. He came out, as the saying now goes, 'hotter than Audley's phone battery' firing at institutions like Holy Childhood High, Immaculate Conception High, Mona High, St Andrew High, and The Queen's School.

 

FORCED TO WITHDRAW

 

Within hours he was forced to withdraw (he hasn't yet had the good sense to apologise, though). That's right! After "we're coming after you" rhetoric, the ministerial tail was tucked in-between his legs.

Mind you, the withdrawal came after he was dealt a proper schoolboy whipping by the St Andrew High board in a letter the public should read. I hope The Gleaner publishes it in full. The letter dismantles Reid completely, and the clear implication is that he is utterly misinformed and also untruthful. How can he maintain his position after such a thorough thrashing?

But that's not the only reason. Cruel Reid, by his recklessness, has compromised every principal's authority in a school environment that is already fraught with social dislocation and struggling with antisocial attitudes. Here's an idea: Do not accuse your foot soldiers - the people actually doing the work - of corruption and extortion for doing exactly what you did when you were a principal.

In fact, there are letters out there in cyberworld penned by principal Ruel Reid in which he lets the parents of Jamaica College know that fees are a critical part of running the school. It has wording eerily similar those from principals he now calls extortionists. What irony!

Also, this year's Ministry Circular (111/2017) states:

"The MoEYI, together with the NPTAJ, will continue to engage and encourage all parents to make the contribution approved by the boards, PTAs, and MoEYI."

Remember it's a "contribution", because fees don't really exist. As for the "engage and encourage" part, clearly Reid does not read.

What recklessness could have generated his mad onslaught? The evidence is that Reid is unhinged, leading him to disparage some of Jamaica's best schools and most dedicated administrators.

 

INCREASED GOV'T CONTRIBUTION

 

You see, Reid's one claim to fame as education minister is that there actually was an increase in Government's contribution beginning with the incoming administration. Unfortunately for the schools and the students, when you account for inflation and devaluation, the governmental increase was a very limited improvement. And in fact, because it came tied to the politically inspired official doublespeak about auxiliary fees and their umpteenth 'abolition', there was a drop-off in parental contributions that has left the schools right back where they were, or worse off.

That's why the principals of all except the most desperate schools where the parents weren't providing any support in any case cried foul. The increase did not, and does not, give schools what they need to run their schools.

Just for kicks, remember the ministry's ridiculous circular cautioning schools that although they could continue charging the auxiliary fees, under no circumstances, and under no conditions, and on pain of death, dismemberment and the extermination of everyone from their home village, could those same fees be called 'auxiliary fees'. Never mind that it was the same fee that the schools charged the year previously. Now the non-existent fee had to be called, by ministerial directive, 'parental contribution' or 'building fund', or some other euphemism.

It was all perfectly Orwellian. Government mandating the language that the schools can use to describe the same thing from one year to another with no other purpose but to spare the administration embarrassment.

Well, this time Reid has gone too far. It is the prime minister who is reckless if he leaves the education sector in the hands of a man who falsely and publicly attacks his subordinates.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.