Mon | Sep 27, 2021

Tread carefully in sacking school boards or principals, says NCE head

Published:Tuesday | September 14, 2021 | 12:10 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
An aerial view of Merl Grove High School in St Andrew. The school’s administration is in the throes of turmoil after the principal was suspended.
An aerial view of Merl Grove High School in St Andrew. The school’s administration is in the throes of turmoil after the principal was suspended.

Despite calls by fuming critics for the board of Merl Grove High School to be sacked for suspending principal Dr Marjorie Fullerton, the executive director of the National Council on Education has warned that such action requires a high threshold...

Despite calls by fuming critics for the board of Merl Grove High School to be sacked for suspending principal Dr Marjorie Fullerton, the executive director of the National Council on Education has warned that such action requires a high threshold for evidence of recklessness, negligence, or dormancy.

While insisting that she would not pronounce on the instant case of the turmoil at Merl Grove, Merris Murray said that the Education Act of 1980 and its regulations were clear on how boards should conduct themselves on corporate governance, and strategic and financial management functions.

Murray cautioned that the hiring and firing of staff by boards must be undertaken with utmost care based on facts, not “gut feeling”.

“When a decision is taken to disengage a staff member, it must be based on a preponderance of evidence that on the face of it there appears to be an action that this person must be called to book for and is answerable to, and that principles of natural justice and due process are followed,” Murray told The Gleaner on Monday.

Many cases are lost on procedural technicality, she warned.

Meanwhile, an audit done by the Ministry of Education has unveiled numerous internal-control weaknesses and several breaches of the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act and other government-related regulations at the embattled Merl Grove High School.

The audit covered the period September 2017 to August 2020.

A special audit team from the education ministry visited Merl Grove High School in November 2020 to review the financial records and to investigate the processes being followed.

According to the ministry, the financial records were at a critical stage in some areas and in need of immediate intervention.

Conclusions from the probe were derived from interviews with the principal and bursar and other staff members of the institution, as well as examination of critical accounting and other financial records such as lodgement books, bank statements, payment vouchers, cash books, receipt books, and canteen records.

The audit revealed that cash collected for summer school for the years 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-2020 were not collected by the bursary nor lodged to the schools account.

Again emphasising that she was not addressing the Merl Grove debacle, Murray said that financial management was a core part of school boards’ fiduciary responsibility to safeguard institutions’ assets.

“The board, in the strictest sense, has a responsibility to ensure that the decisions are taken in the best interest of the school,” Murray said.

Fullerton has been suspended by the David Hall-chaired school board for reportedly going off on break for three weeks without discussing plans with her subordinates for the reopening of school in September.

She is to face a disciplinary committee on September 21.

The presidents of the Canadian, New York, and Jamaican chapters of the past students’ association are pushing an online petition calling for the immediate reinstatement of the principal with an apology.

The groups are also “exercising a no-confidence vote in Hall.