Indie schools stagger under subsidy cuts

2013-05-09 00:00

INDEPENDENT schools in KwaZulu-Natal that charge low fees have been hit hard by the Department of Education’s decision to slash the state subsidy.

The schools achieved a hollow victory last month when the Constitutional Court ruled that the department must pay back millions of rands to the independent schools to make up for the shortfall in the subsidies they received for the 2009 financial year.

But at most of these schools the damage has already been done.

Nomaswazi High School is one of the 119 independent schools in KZN that had their subsidy slashed by up to 30% since 2009.

Headmistress Pinky Mkhize said the cut had hit them hard.

To make ends meet, the school has drastically trimmed teachers’ salaries, learning and teaching support material, science experiment apparatus and infrastructure maintenance.

She said it had been difficult to maintain infrastructure and buy learning aids when the budget was so tight.

The salaries of teachers and support staff alone amount to R500 000 per month.

“What the department is doing is a sin,” Mkhize added.

“These are South African children and their parents pay tax, but they’re treating us like street kids.”

She said she had been trying to arrange a meeting with department officials to discuss the matter.

Even though things seem bleak, the school — which has been operating for two decades with a good record — is not throwing in the towel.

Last year it achieved a good matric pass rate.

“I’m not looking at a situation where I can close my school. Never! We’ve created a name for ourselves,” said Mkhize.

What was needed was to compel the department to take responsibility, she added.

“They can’t wish away private schools.”

A combined independent school in central Pietermaritzburg, whose director wanted to remain unnamed, said they too had suffered huge losses.

He said he was looking at downscaling or shutting down completely.

The school is considering doing away with the secondary classes, but he believes it would not survive with just a small number of primary school pupils.

“We’ll close down completely or we’ll relocate to other provinces that are more accommodating.

“The department looks at us as a burden,” he added.

Another option is to ask parents to pay 30% to 40% more in school fees, but as it is most of them cannot afford the current fees.

The annual fee for a primary school pupil is R6 600 and for a high school pupil R10 600.

This director said that if independent schools were to close in Pietermaritzburg, the department would not be able to absorb all the pupils.

“It will also cost them three times the subsidy they’re paying us.”

The headmaster of C21 Private School, Nesan Nair, said the last quarter of last year’s subsidy was paid only this year.

The headmaster of St Nicholas Diocesan School, Luke Perkins, said he was pleased by the Constitutional Court ruling and said the cuts had not affected them much.

He said the subsidy system was a cost-effective way to provide schooling for many children.

Perkins said his school usually received the subsidy late.

Bethel Academic School headmaster Manilaal Moses said they were affected “quite a bit” and had to use their lights and water carefully.

He added that the missionary school was supported by the church and private scholarships.

“Our fees are still the same because we mostly cater for children who come from single-parent homes.”

Prince Alfred Primary School said the “unscheduled cuts” had put it under serious hardship and it had to cut costs across the board.

The department has promised to respect the ruling of the Constitutional Court and said it would do whatever was necessary to implement the ruling.

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