Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Unfair & unacceptable! - School principal cries foul as his suspension drags on for 30 months

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

The Ministry of Education is defending the decision to keep a school principal off the job for the past three years after the internal audit unit of the ministry uncovered what is suspected to be financial irregularities at the institution.

But the principal, Vince Williams, is crying foul after he was suspended from his job at the St Catherine-based Tulloch Primary School by the board for an initial three-month period, and 40 months later, he is yet to be charged or reinstated.

According to Williams, the treatment being meted out to him is not unique and is part of a pattern where charges are trumped up against principals and teachers when school boards and regional directors want to get rid of them.

"When they have issues with principals, and even education officers, charges like these are trumped up and destroy people's reputation," Williams told The Sunday Gleaner.

"There are loopholes in the code (Education Code), where if they take action against you as a principal, after a period of six months to a year, they can appoint somebody permanently in your place, and if you even win the case, you can't go back to the school, so what the ministry does is continue to pay you and find you another job, sending you to never-never land.

"It is happening too often. The education system is littered with principals and teachers and education officers who have been marginalised and victimised, and in the end, if they win the case they do not get back the job where they were," charged Williams.

He argued that a policy needs to be put in place, so when mistakes are made that lead to career-threatening decisions, the persons who erred are responsible for compensating the injured parties.

Late last week, Minister of Education Ruel Reid told our news team that he was willing to explore the issue, but pointed out that any policy change would require more consultation and legal guidance.

 

NOT FREQUENT

 

According to Reid, while school officials are sometimes suspended while investigations are conducted, this not a frequent occurrence.

"In every organisation, and we have a very large organisation, you are always going to find, from time to time, cases that you have to deal with," said Reid.

"So I am quite aware and quite familiar with these cases and we have had to deal with them from I was president of the JTA (Jamaica Teachers' Association), but they are in the minority. So it is not unusual but it is something that we will have to look into," added Reid.

The Steadman Fuller-chaired Tulloch Primary School board had recommended that Williams proceed on leave of choice, but when he declined he was suspended pending investigations of financial irregularities.

These irregularities stemmed from an audit conducted by the education ministry's internal auditors which identified in excess of $1.84 million as being unaccounted for, to include $564,000 from canteen sales and $449,000 from the school's tuck shop.

The matter was referred to the police on April 12, 2016.

Williams is, however, contending that the charges against him are unfounded and is a result of a personal agenda by some opposed to him.

"I have done nothing wrong, and from ... my initial suspension to facilitate the audit, I have always proclaimed my innocence," said Williams.

"In the circumstances, I am ready, willing and able to return to work. I am not charged with any offence. I have not even been questioned by the police."

But Reid said while the length of time it has taken for the matter to be resolved is regrettable there is nothing the ministry can do as it is in the hands of the Police Fraud Squad.

"There is an investigative taking place and the person has to be on leave until the investigation is completed," said Reid.

"One of the problems is that the police are the persons who are carrying out the investigation and we can't force the police to act with any expedition. We have to await the legal processes. If it was a matter before the court the regulation requires that the matter would have to be dealt with in nine months.

"But in this instance, the police are the ones investigating the matter of fraud and, therefore, you couldn't have the same person under investigation active in a job," added Reid.

The Reverend Dameon Hines has been acting as principal at the institution since September following the retirement of former interim principal Huit Johnson.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com