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Not enough! Educators concerned about government's vow to remove auxiliary fees for new school year

Published:Thursday | April 21, 2016 | 4:27 PMAndre Poyser

While they welcome the announced 65 per cent increase in the tuition contribution per student by the government, high school administrators are arguing that this will not be enough to make up for the shortfall expected from the removal of auxiliary fees.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Senator Ruel Reid, yesterday vowed that come September, the government will honour its promise to remove auxiliary fees in secondary schools. His announcement comes against the background that concerns have been raised as to whether the newly elected Jamaica Labour Party government would keep the promise it made during its election bid to govern the country.

"Principals will be happy to know that we will honour our commitment for the next school year...we will move the contribution to schools in a range of the current $11,500 to $19,000," he said while addressing the presentation ceremony for cohort two of the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) Aspiring Principals Programme.

According to Reid, the increase in the tuition contribution will set the stage for the removal of auxiliary fees when the 2016/2017 school year begins.

"We are going to meet with all the stakeholders, principals and the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) to see how we can model these additional resources and that the term auxiliary fees and the request for auxiliary fees can in fact be extinguished as we look at other options to ensure the system if fully funded," he added.

However, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, David Wilson, said the removal of auxiliary fees will affect schools financially even with the announced increase in the ministry's tuition assistance.

"In as much as it's a good gesture and a part of the promise to lessen the burdens on parents, it would still not suffice in terms of the kinds of programmes that schools offer. When we speak to our parents we will still have to say to them that regarding the funding of a school's budget, as much as the government will present you with a package, it is not going to be able to cover all the costs that are going to be incurred," he told The Gleaner.

Deputy Spokesperson on Education, Michael Stewart, who is on secondment as principal of Porus High School, agreed that the announced increase will not be sufficient once auxiliary fees are removed.

According to Stewart, a sum of between $25,000 and $35,000 per student in tuition contribution is needed if schools are to operate comfortably without auxiliary fees.

"Some years ago a study was done as it relates to the tuition fee per child at the high school level and that worked out to somewhere in the region of about $25,000 and for those at the sixth form level it was about $35,000; so this new increase will assist but I cannot say it will add significant value to the schools if the auxiliary fees are not paid," he said.

Stewart argued that schools will come under considerable financial burden and will be hard pressed to fund extracurricular and sports programmes, for example.

The education minister explained that the increase in the tuition contribution will run across two budget periods. He said that an additional $2 billion will be added to what is already in the budget for the school tuition assistance programme.

Stewart has, however, said he is concerned about how the government will fund the removal of the auxiliary fees.

"It will cost the government $4 billion to remove auxiliary fees and we did not see that in the budget so we want to know where that money is coming from, so that is a concern we will be raising," he said.

The Estimates of Expenditure for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, tabled last week, shows a budgetary allocation of $2.8 billion for tuition assistance to schools. That figure is about $151 million more than the sum budgeted for the last financial year.

andre.poyser@gleanerjm.com