Some private schools might close for good - Funding deficit triggers COVID-19 plea
Some local private schools that were forced to close their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic might never reopen after the viral plague ends unless they receive government subventions to plug funding deficits.
Dr Faithlyn Wilson, president of the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA), gave the grim forecast on Monday in the aftermath of last week’s talks with officials from the Ministry of Education regarding funding and access to online teaching platforms for private institutions.
“We’ve had interactions with the Ministry of Education, and they have yielded some benefits, but those do not include any kind of cash injection. Our greatest cost is the cost of paying our teachers, and at some schools, it’s more than 70 per cent of the overall fee intake,” Wilson told The Gleaner.
Without financial support from the MOE, Christopher Graham, vice-president of JISA and principal of Phoenix Academy in Kingston, said that if the closure is prolonged, they might have no choice but to cease operations.
The Government ordered all schools to be closed for 14 days, beginning March 13, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Jamaica has recorded 63 infections and three deaths.
The shutdown has since been extended until the end of Easter.
Graham surmises that the fiscal cliff might cause teachers to be furloughed.
“But the bigger issue for us is that we may very well be one of the first fatalities of this epidemic,” he said. “Just like businesses that may go under, even if school reopens in September, there’s no guarantee we’ll retain all our parents, or that our parents are going to be in a position, within a given term, to pay fees.”
Wilson said that anecdotal canvassing of some of JISA’s 150 members, which represent about 27 per cent of private schools, indicated the majority were either struggling to stay afloat or would have to shutter for good. That is the basis of their plea to the Government for a fiscal line beyond the measures in the stimulus package.
For Consuelo Ricketts, principal of the St James-based Eagles’ Wings Preparatory School, her biggest challenge is providing adequate online schooling and bill payment.
“Not all of the children have computers at home, so we have to settle for WhatsApp, although it’s been going well. We also have light bills and water bills to pay, but as long as the students are learning, that’s the part that is important,” said Ricketts.