Tue | Aug 14, 2018

Pay me my money - Punished principal demands her dollars!; Claims $20M in unpaid salary from Education Ministry after wrongful dismissal

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Sonia Clarke Lee

Six months after the Teachers Services Commission (TSC) ruled that she was unfairly dismissed, Sonia Clarke Lee, the former principal of Spring Gardens All-Age in St Catherine, is demanding the more than $20 million in salary she believes she is owed since being separated from her job in 2008.

In March, the TSC ruled that Clarke Lee she should be reinstated in her post eight years and seven months after she was dismissed, "without a due process and other illegal actions by the school's board".

The TSC found that the board acted in breach of the Code of Regulations which governs the running of public educational institutions when it dismissed Clarke Lee.

Now the former principal, who is working at the Ministry of Education with no job description and at the retirement age, has vowed to battle until she is paid her money.

"I am not leaving it, you hear me. I am not leaving it," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

"I knew I was going to court with my situation because many of these persons who are on school boards have never seen the Code of Regulations which governs the running of public educational institutions. I arm myself with the information that I must know, that I should know," she stated.

Clarke Lee had gone to court seeking a judicial review of her dismissal, but in 2015 the court sent the matter to the TSC and told that body to do its job and rule on the matter.

"The TSC ruled in my favour in March 2017 with a letter of appointment and reinstatement. So since 2008 I should have been appointed principal at the school. Based on the salary I would I have received, it's over $20 million that is outstanding (and) I am not leaving it," declared Clarke Lee.

She told our news team that she was the victim of harrowing incompetence by officials of the education ministry, from regional directors to education officers, school boards and other connected individuals.

The former principal further charged that the education ministry is used to park persons, who have been disrespected by "school boards who believe their job is to run schools and discipline principals".

Clarke Lee noted that her fight for justice started during the tenure of Andrew Holness as education minister and continued through Ronald Thwaites and now Ruel Reid, at least four permanent secretaries in the ministry, and 10 Jamaica Teachers' Association presidents.

"It was a period of indescribable disrespect. My son went to high school like a pauper. I had my 85-year-old mother living with me and there were times when I had to cut an orange in half, give it to her today and leave the other half until the next day.

"We had to use dishwashing liquid and bathe, because we could not buy soap. So when I tell you that I am not leaving my money, I am not leaving it," she declared.

She said over the past nine years she has 'freelanced' her services, "teaching here, there and wherever I could get a job", and had it not been for her husband, whose salary they all had to depend on, the entire family would have been paupers.

Clarke Lee, who is a trained graduate with a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, has been teaching since 1982. She took up the position as provisional principal of Spring Gardens All-Age in 2007 after resigning her job as acting vice-principal of Inswood High School.

After one academic year in the position and with no blemish to her personal or professional record, and no questions about her ability to carry out her mandate, she should have been appointed principal once a clear vacancy was identified based on the stipulations of Education Regulations.

Any issue relating to her performance and conduct should have resulted in her being called to a meeting, the concerns/allegations outlined, and she be given an opportunity to respond.

She said none of this happened and still she did not get an appointment letter. Instead, she received a letter from the board instructing her not to return to school in February 2009.

The JTA intervened and the board's decision was rescinded. She continued at work, but said a demonstration by some residents of the community jolted her, leaving her scared to be at work.

Clarke Lee said she received a second letter from the board telling her that August 30, 2009 would be her last day and wishing her well. This signalled the start of her long fight for justice, which the determined educator is adamant will not end until she is paid all that she is due.

The education ministry has indicated that it will respond to Clarke Lee's claim, but this was not received up to press time.