PATH pains - Schools stuck with big bills following new lunch directive, but education minister says relief is available
Administrators at several schools across the island are complaining that they face an additional challenge this year as they struggle to find more money to fund meals for students on the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH).
This follows a directive from Education Minister Ruel Reid that all students on PATH are to be given lunch every school day.
Schools were previously responsible for providing lunch for these students three days each week, but Reid announced, at the start of the new school year, that the days were to be increased. He also promised that $150 would be allotted each day to purchase lunch for each of the more than 188,000 students currently on PATH.
But the change has proved particularly problematic for those principals whose schools are served by a concessionaire.
President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, David Wilson, said he couldn't speak for other schools, as the issue has not been generally discussed. however, as principal of Clarendon College, he is in discussion with education ministry officials about the challenges his school is facing following the recent directive from the minister.
"Based on the provisions from the government for the five days, in terms of the per-day cost it may be a challenge on the basis that my school works with a concessionaire and the concessionaire prices are $250 and up for a lunch per day, so we are in dialogue with the ministry as to how best to approach it," said Wilson.
Another principal, who asked not to be named, told The Sunday Gleaner that lunches are sold at her school for $250 and the school has had to fund the difference for PATH students.
SHOULD NOT BE DIFFERENT
"We are not managing because the funds that we get can't feed the children for five days and we have to feed them well. I am not one of those that believe that the PATH students' lunch should be different from any other lunch," said the principal.
She said the Corporate Area institution she administers has nearly 500 students on PATH, and other school administrators are experiencing similar challenges.
"We talk among ourselves. It is difficult, it is really difficult, and the children are coming expecting the lunch, and we understand that, so every time you beg a little money, it goes right into that welfare," said the administrator.
In the meantime, while principal of the Corporate Area-based St Andrew Technical High School (STATHS), Rayon Simpson, does not have an issue with the education ministry's directive, he hopes the financial support from the ministry will, over time, match the reality faced by the schools.
According to Simpson, STATHS has 595 students on PATH and also provides support for more than 200 other students. It costs the school more than $148,000 to provide lunches for these students daily. A portion of that is subsidised by the Government but the school bears the brunt.
"We have been very fortunate to have past students who care deeply about our school and students, and as a consequence assist the breakfast and lunch programmes. This has enabled us to bridge the gap significantly, though not entirely," said Simpson.
But Education Minister Ruel Reid told our news team that he has not received any complaints from any institution regarding the recent amendments to the policy for the provision of lunches for PATH students.
"All that is required is that where principals have issues, the correct protocol is to have a discussion with the board, the board has a discussion with the Ministry of Education, and then we can resolve all problems," said.
"No school to my knowledge has made a formal representation to me or raised it as a concern," added the education minister.
He said the ministry had hosted a meeting with school concessionaires to arrive at more affordable prices for lunch for PATH students.
"The truth is, the only schools that have issues, and this predated the new policy, are the schools that have concessionaires, because the schools that have their own canteen, not only are we providing the funds for those schools, but we are providing the funding for cooks and paying all the other utilities," said Reid.
"We at the ministry can work with the school and the concessionaire to arrive at a formula so that the children can get lunch, and everybody will be paid and everybody will be happy," he asserted.