Tue | Nov 29, 2022

Clueless and careless : Ronnie and Daniel Thwaites just don't get it!

Published:Friday | August 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Ruel Reid
Ronald Thwaites

The following article was submitted by Rani Young on behalf of a group referring to themselves as Friends of Senator Ruel Reid.

Sunday Gleaner columnist Daniel Thwaites went to great lengths last week to provide another example of how someone would rather not be confused by evidence.

Of note, several references were made to Jamaica College in his attack on its former principal and current education minister, Senator Ruel Reid, which did not consider the stewardship of the previous minister of education, Daniel's dad, Ronald.

Easily available research reveals that under the government administration of 1989-2007, Jamaica College deteriorated to a low ebb. There was little or no investment in that institution and many others by the government of the day. The alumni and parents of the school, along with its other stakeholders, began the journey of transformation in 2006 without much government support. Through the efforts of Dr Danny Williams, the entire school community went about dutifully raising more than $500 million with the partnership of parents.

It was only during the leadership of Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness that they got $15 million from the Education Transformation Project to help with school improvement. There was also more than a 100 per cent increase in government support to schools from the same JLP administration to $11,500 per capita. That figure remained dormant under the leadership of Ronald Thwaites. This was despite the slide in the Jamaican dollar over the period 2012-2016.

The government of the day provided no answer to rising costs. That government, it seems, gave up and allowed schools to fend for themselves. Jamaica College developed several revenue streams, including parents' contributions. Of significance was that the school was able to attract more middle-class families who could pay the $30,000 to which Daniel refers.

Ironically also, the then Ministry of Education leadership endorsed the increase of the population of the school from under 1,400 to more than 1,900, and even after years of persistent advocacy, there was still no relief to get the 12 additional staff paid by the ministry.

So the school diligently asked parents to support the transformation, and that they did with full transparency and accountability. There was a very elaborate welfare system to help take care of the poor and needy. No one was turned away or denied access to school services, if they did not pay the approved auxiliary fees then.

The school had to, uncomfortably, pay this out of parents' contributions. No help from the Government of the day, which left every widow to use her last mite to pay auxiliary fees, even if she went hungry and naked afterwards.

But 2017 is not the same as 2015. There is a new government and a new policy framework in which the funding to schools has been significantly increased by the State. So one finds it odd that any school administration would put in writing communication that amounts to contempt for the Holness Government's stated policy.

The Government has pointed out that there are too many poor children in Jamaica, and it is not expected that all parents would be able to pay high fees. In fact, 85 per cent of schools do not have parents' contributions above $10,000 either.

The Gleaner, in one of its editorials, of where the writer seemed to look at facts and then dashed headlong in the opposite direction, suggested schools be funded as they are in OECD countries. That can only happen when Jamaica has an economy and per capita income like OECD countries. A Kit Kat chocolate bar sells for J$50 but the equivalent of more than J$500 in Australia. A government minister gets the equivalent of US$40,000 per year, but in Singapore, its US$1 million (J$128 million). So let's not compare apples with bananas here.

Unlike the preceding one, the Holness administration has put its money where its mouth is as it pursues a policy of free tuition at secondary-school level and increased operational funding. This is what has been done, but Daniel did not acknowledge this.

The current Government has increased the allocation of operational budgets from $11,500 to $17,000 and $19,000 per capita up to sixth form. But schools can charge sixth-form fees where these exist.

But that is not all as The Gleaner and Daniel Thwaites got it wrong again. A ministry paper was tabled in Parliament on the total amount sent to schools last year showing more funds above the $19,000 per capita.

Certainly, we can recall hearing Lynton Weir, principal of Old Harbour High, a centre of excellence, speaking on radio about how much better off his school has been under the new funding policy. Then there is Rayon Simpson of St Andrew Technical High School (STATHS) and formerly of Belmont Academy. STATHS rose in the CSEC rankings in a year when it reduced by 50 per cent the parent contributions. They clearly know money management and excellence combined.

Government's additional funding includes for part-time staff, temporary staff, ICT, TVET, CAP, and infrastructure support. The amount of funds provided to many schools is way above $30,000 per capita for non-permanent staff operational expenses. This is why St Andrew High has been pulled out of the red and is no longer in the same cash-flow quandary as in previous years. Unfortunately, the public is not often aware that the Government also pays for the general staffing in public schools, and that should be factored into the overassessment of the per capita funding of schools.

Conveniently, some people speak about a low $50,000 being spent per student; but even so, the fact is that only a small percentage of parents would be able to pay that amount and then pay for expensive books and cover other costs of $60,000 for back-to-school expenses.

So, we must learn to live within our means and work with our parents and not embarrass them or undercut a policy designed to help them.

During the Ronnie years, most bursar-paid schools had a long list of outstanding payments for substitute teachers on leave. Those schools were always at the mercy of Tax Administration Jamaica. Some of these schools sent several letters to all parts of the Ministry of Education, including to the permanent secretary and Minister Thwaites, but to no avail. They got no money.

However, under better management of the Holness Cabinet, priorities have been realigned and more than $30 million has been paid to clear arrears up to March 2017. Indeed, overall funding for operational expenses of secondary schools has been increased from $2.6 billion left by the previous administration to $5.3 billion, 2016-2017; and for the year 2017-2018, it's $7.2 billion. The Government has also increased the funding of primary education, by more than 167 per cent.

We must not switch the conversation and justify wrongdoing. Accountability is a good value that we must teach our students.

The facts have been laid out and they speak for themselves. Clearly, this is a desperate attempt by the Thwaiteses to discredit every front of progress made by the Holness administration. When Ronald was the minister, he never sought to undertake a doubling of the budget to underfunded schools, hence he should be silent or present ideas that Senator Ruel Reid as minister is more ready and able to implement.

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