‘Parents, pay-up!' - Auxiliary fees needed to help schools to get ready for September
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites is defending the administrators of secondary schools who have been asking parents to pay up auxiliary and other fees well before the start of the new school year.
With some parents complaining that the joy of their children doing well in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is being replaced by sadness at the charges they have been hit with, Thwaites argued that schools have no choice.
According to Thwaites, the notion that everyone is entitled to free secondary education is not correct and is unsustainable.
"It is not free. The Government provides probably 90 per cent of the cost, but there has to be contributions by those who can make it," Thwaites told The Sunday Gleaner as he pointed to help through the PATH programme for those unable to pay.
"I am aware that the contribution is especially difficult this year, because times are so hard. Schools have been instructed to keep away no one, but arrangements must be responsibly made to make the payments over a period of time," added Thwaites.
However, the education minister was adamant that no child should be denied access to school supplies such as books provided under the Government's textbook rental scheme.
"The schools tend to hold a hard end at the beginning, because many times, if they don't, the parents make a promise and you never see them again for the rest of the year. So that's why they are stern, and they should be, but in the final analysis, they must exclude no one," said Thwaites.
"And if there are instances where this is happening, everyone knows my phone number; they are to call me and tell me, and we will deal with it."
Thwaites was responding to claims by an educator that parents of GSAT awardees were faced with an immediate cost of between $800 and $7,500 for the registration package, with this money to be paid days after the school placement was announced.
Parents were then hit with other expenses, including medical examination, summer school, uniform/material, book lists, PTA and auxiliary fee vouchers, all to be paid before the end of July.
"While parents could appreciate the immediacy with which a medical report might be required, several expressed concern that some school administrators demanded the payment of the contentious auxiliary fees long before the start of the new academic year.
"Just under 40 per cent of the surveyed schools ordered parents to fork out the year's fees in July, with deadlines as early as the week commencing July 13, 2015," said educator and parent Verona Antoine-Smith
"In some schools, accessing textbooks for rental was contingent on the payment of auxiliary fees. Fifty-four per cent of the schools surveyed admitted that these new students had to pay auxiliary fees as a precondition to collecting their rental books," added Antoine-Smith as she noted that the fees ranged from $6,000 to $41,000 (in non-boarding institutions).
SCHOOLS NEED MONEY
But president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, Heather Murray, says while she understands that it is difficult for some parents, schools need the money to operate effectively as the Government's contribution is minimal.
"They will probably give you a maintenance fee of maybe $20,000 for the year. When you have a school of my size, what can $20,000 do for maintenance? It can't even pay the workmen," said Murray, who is the principal at Hampton High School.
"Many of the schools are doing far extra with so little. What the ministry needs to do is keep a check and balance and say $7,000 is reasonable (for registration packages), but what is it you are doing with this money? And let the parents be aware that it is not free. You do not have to pay tuition, but there are many other hidden cost," added Murray.
She argued that parents are being asked to pay the various fees early as school administrators have much to do to get ready for the September 7 start of the new academic year.
"There are a number of preparatory things we do for school that have to be done in the summer. These include painting out the graffiti that the students put on the walls, we have fencing priorities, and if you have Internet facilities to put in," said Murray.
"We need to do these things, and a number of schools end the year with nothing at all in their accounts. They depend heavily on the fees that are paid to make these preparations to start school."