The City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality’s reclassification of independent schools from public benefit organisations to businesses has resulted in the rise of their water and electricity rates, with the schools noticing a massive increase of about 10 times the rates they paid before.
Most schools under the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations are classified as public benefit organisations – not as businesses – and have benefitted from rates exemptions.
Christian Andrews, director and principal of Andrews Academy in Randburg, says the school is fighting the municipality’s decision, which was taken without prior consultation, because there is no way that even larger independent schools can manage this increase.
“I don’t think [this decision] was well-thought-out. Unfortunately, it is a strategy to get as much revenue as possible and squeeze it out as much as they can, which is not equitable,” says Andrews.
He says the City of Johannesburg has backdated and increased the school’s water charges from R5 000 to R55 000 monthly, which is 10 times more than their previous bill.
Andrews says if this continues, they will be forced to lodge a class action lawsuit.
He said the municipality’s decision would hinder the school’s efforts to keep school fees affordable.
With the increase in fuel prices and food price inflation, Andrews said the school had to increase the salaries of its educators, a bill which the increase of rates has made “completely unaffordable”.
“As independent schools, we do not rely on the state for a sort of subsidy because we understand that government schools need the funding more than we do. However, the state forgets that it is our taxes that help it to help public schools, so these changes really do not make sense.”
“A lot of people think that private schools are all expensive, but our school fees are reasonable and we try to keep them affordable to parents. But there is only so much we can do.”
He said the municipality needed to put a stop to this billing system because many schools, especially small ones, would soon be unable to keep up with costs, which might force them to close down.
“It is one thing to for people to lose jobs and live without a salary, but it is another when children are out of school. Then the state will have to find facilities for them because they themselves are not building enough schools to keep up with the demand.”
“The state should not penalise private schools when they are helping them to accommodate the influx of learners by charging us ridiculously high rates, which is unnecessary.”
The City of Johannesburg did not respond to City Press queries.
In an article by Business Insider, it is believed that the decision to eliminate education as a property classification and impose new rates for public service properties will also extend to public schools and tertiary education institutions.