Friday | March 6, 2015

What's the real cost of running a high school?

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2012

Peter-John Gordon, Guest Columnist

This series of articles comes out of work done for the Education Cluster of the 50|50 project spearheaded by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at UWI (Mona). This project is a reflection on the first 50 years of Independence in the Anglophone Caribbean, and preparation for the next 50 years.

We attempt to estimate the cost of the secondary and primary levels of the educational system. We make no attempt to estimate the central administration cost of the educational system, i.e. the Ministry of Education. Equally, no attempt is made to cost the transition from where we are to where we want to be. What we do is to construct what we perceive to be a reasonable school system and ask ourselves what it would cost to maintain such a system.

We are concerned only with the operation of the school, not the provision of welfare services through the school. This means that we do not consider the provision of meals, textbooks, or other welfare services, all of which might be vital for the success of the educational process, but which are, strictly speaking, outside the central mandate of a school.

The first article in this series looks at what we perceive to be an ideal high school and estimate its cost of operation.

We do not consider boarding schools. Our model high school will consist of 1,500 students, distributed as follows: 300 (20 per cent) in sixth form and 1,200 (80 per cent) between grades seven and 11. The average class size in the sixth form is 25, while between grades seven and 11, it is 35. Our model school, therefore, has seven streams in each grade between grades seven and 11. It is assumed that 150 students enter sixth form each year, i.e., 62.5 per cent of the grade 11 cohort. Currently, only 3.6 per cent of secondary students are in sixth form.

Our model has all secondary students being educated in designated secondary schools. At present, approximately 23,500 secondary students are in all-age and primary and junior high schools. If schools were to be built to accommodate the 23,500 secondary students who are not in designated secondary schools we would need an additional 16 schools. This is an upper bound of the schools required, as other configurations can be used, depending on the distribution of pupils and the size of existing schools. Our model eliminates the shift system. There are currently 107 schools operating a shift system (25 primary; nine all-age; 32 primary and junior high; 40 secondary; and one technical high).

The pupil-teacher ratio in our model high school is 19:1. This means that in our 1,500-pupil school, there will be 79 teachers, inclusive of a principal, two vice-principals, one librarian and two guidance counsellors (we do not take account of teachers on leave).

All teachers in our model high school will be trained university graduates. The current state of affairs is that 44 per cent of all teachers teaching at the secondary level have this level of education. Our model school has 30 per cent of teachers (excluding principal and vice-principals) being senior teachers. Currently, 17 per cent of teachers who teach secondary students are senior teachers.

Academic Staff Cost

In order to estimate academic staff cost per annum, we take the current salary scale as given (based on the heads of agreement between the Government of Jamaica and the Jamaica Teachers' Association from April 2008 to March 31, 2010), make adjustments for inflation (7.9 per cent to March 2011 and a further 7.3 per cent to March 2012) and make assumptions as to where on the scale the 'average' teacher would fall.

We assume that the average principal is a principal of a Secondary III school being paid at the fourth increment of a six-increment scale, i.e. $3,975,000 per annum, while a vice-principal is at the fourth increment of a six-increment scale being paid $2,932,000 per year.

We assume that a senior teacher is at the ninth increment on an 11-increment scale being paid $1,870,000 per year, and a regular teacher is at the fourth increment on an 11-increment scale being paid $1,765,000 per year. Our 'average teacher' is, therefore, paid $1,796,000 per annum. The annual academic staff cost for our model high school of one principal, two vice-principals and 76 teachers (inclusive of NIS and NHT) is $154,164,600.

Administrative Staff Cost

Administrative salaries were not taken as given. In our model school, these payments are varied. We will attempt to justify the recommendations which we make.

The position of secretary/bursar should be raised to the level of a vice-principal. This person is in charge of the administrative arm of the school - accounting, human resource management, property and grounds, security, record keeping and any other administrative functions. Current salary levels of approximately $1.2 million (adjusted for inflation) are totally inadequate for this scale of responsibility.

An assistant bursar should be paid at the same level of a teacher. Current levels of approximately $831,000 (adjusted for inflation) will definitely not attract the required skill set.

Each school should have a registrar paid at the level of a teacher. The role of the registrar is going to be vital if the teaching staff is to have immediate access to each student's history. The registrar in a school should be versed in information technology, thus competent in storing, retrieving and manipulating data. Without current information being always accessible, the ability to design a targeted response to each student's need in a timely fashion becomes impossible. The current remuneration of approximately $650,000 is very unlikely to deliver a person who is to become the information centre of the school. This person could also be relied upon to keep personnel records.

A plant manager is required to ensure the smooth functioning of the school plant and equipment, inclusive of aesthetics. This person is a vital part of the administrative structure of a school. It is proposed that a salary of $1 million be attached to this post.

Our model high school would incur the following staff cost for administration:

Administrative Expenses

This category contains the non-personnel cost of administration. These include utility bills (electricity, water, and telephone), supplies for the school - cleaning material, toiletries, stationery, security, etc. We estimate these costs for our model high school to be $30 million per annum.

Teaching/Learning Supplies

This category includes material for laboratories, libraries, classroom material (chalk/markers, duster, maps, etc). We estimate these expenditures for our model school to be $6 million per annum.

Co-curricular Expenditure

Spending on this category throughout the secondary school system is very uneven. There are schools with highly developed sports and other competition programmes (including Schools' Challenge Quiz), and those which have well-established cultural programmes (choir, orchestra, dance groups) which utilise vast amounts of resources. Many of these schools spend significantly in excess of our recommendation. We estimate that a co-curricular budget of $8 million should give students of our model school a very rich sports/cultural/service experience.

Maintenance Cost

We estimate a depreciation rate of 7.5 per cent per annum. Maintenance would, therefore, require that each school spend 7.5 per cent of the replacement cost of the school each year. We estimate that the cost of building a school which could accommodate 1,500 students is $700 million. This would mean that the annual maintenance cost for our model school would be $52.5 million.

The table below summarises the cost of operating our model school for a year.

Note that these estimates do not include cost of teachers on leave, any welfare programmes delivered through the school (feeding or school books) or the cost for any net addition to the capital stock of the school.

Peter-John Gordon is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the UWI, Mona. Email feedback to and

  • Administrative staff cost

No. Position Unit Cost J$ Cost J$
1 Bursar 2,932,339 2,932,339
2 Assist bursars 1,764,884 3,529,768
1 Registrar 1,764,884 1,764,884
1 Plant manager 1,000,000 1,000,000
1 Nurse 1,764,884 1,764,884
4 Secretaries 950,000 3,800,000
2 Lab technicians 600,000 1,200,000
1 Library assistant 600,000 600,000
3 Clerical assistants 600,000 1,800,000
NIS 454,279
NHT 545,135

Total 19,391,289
  • Ancillary staff cost

Ancillary Staff costing are presented in the table below:

No. Position Per Unit Cost J$ Cost J$
6 Cleaners 438,284 2,629,704
5 Groundsmen 438,284 2,191,420
4 Watchmen 462,305 1,849,220
1 Messenger 407,038 407,038
NIS 176,935
NHT 212,251
Total 7,466,567

  • Estimate for the operation of the model high school

Cost J$ Staff cost Cost per student
Staff 153,164,601 102,110
Staff 19,391,289 12,928
Staff 7,466,567 4,978
Expenses 30,000,000 20,000
Supplies 6,000,000 4,000
Expenditure 8,000,000 5,333
Total recurrent
expenditure 224,022,457 149,348
Maintenance 52,500,000 35,000
Total annual
cost 276,522,457 184,348