Fees fall a failure

Cedar High School in Rocklands will have to retrench five teachers because the school is owed more than R900 000 in unpaid school fees.

Principal David Charles, said the teachers have already received notice that they are to be retrenched.

The five are employed by the school governing body which means that the school pays the teachers, not the Western Cape Education Department.

Mr Charles said the school, which is an arts focus school, has a huge problem with parents not paying school fees over the years. According to the school’s financial books, for last year alone a total of R927 479 is outstanding. He said the school should at least get R130 000 monthly, but only about R26 000 is coming in every month.

“This means that we will have to combine classes, with 50 pupils and will not have teachers to teach them various instruments. We will also not be able to afford equipment and materials, items that are extremely important.”

Mr Charles said the school received R530 000 from the Western Cape Education Department every year, but this wasn’t enough to cover all their expenses as they spent about R140 000 a year on electricity and R130 000 on text-books, learning materials, sport equipment, transport to events and excursions.

“So this is just a drop in the ocean. How are we supposed to survive and pay our teachers? And the worst part is that we fall under quantile 5, meaning that we are on the level of schools in Sea Point and Muizenberg. But, we are in an area where people have financial challenges, and do not pay school fees,” he said.

There are currently 1 435 pupils and 46 teachers at the school, which offers drama, music, design and visual art in addition to other academic subjects. “We want our pupils to have the best,” said Mr Charles. “We have teachers who teach pupils how to play instruments such as the bass, drums and they even have vocal teachers.

”School fees at Cedar High range between R1 610 and R2 320 a year.

Teacher Courtney Edwards explained that fees increased as pupils progressed through the grades because the school had added events and excursions every year. “Grades 10 to 12 will go out more to events and extramural activities,” he said, adding that different grades also required different learning materials.

And, said Mr Edwards, despite the school being an art focus school, it was not receiving funding for arts education.

“It becomes a liability. We are the only art school in Mitchell’s Plain. We’ve applied for additional posts, but the department did not grant the posts – with no reason.

This will surely have an impact on teaching and learning,” he said.

A cut in the number of teaching staff, said Mr Edwards, would have a negative impact on teachers and pupils.

“The conditions we work in are terrible. (But) we need to work with what we have and make the best of it. This includes your own funds going into your class. This term alone, I mark over 590 scripts. This workload will increase.”

Acting chairperson of the school’s governing body, Cedrick Daniels, said the school was bankrupt. “The school is in a crisis. Parents are not paying school fees and this will affect pupils. There are pupils who do not pay school fees from Grade 8 to Grade 12.

“School fees should be a priority, because it is your child’s education,” he said.

Mr Daniels said parents can pay school fees monthly and can even apply for an exemption if they genuinely could not afford to pay school fees.

Progressive Principals’ Association chairperson, Riyaadh Najaar, said the crisis at Cedar High was mirrored at many schools which catered to children from disadvantaged areas.

He said parents do not see the importance of paying school fees. “The school will have to abandon quality education because they cannot afford to maintain the much-needed staff.

“The quintile placement of schools has been skewed and debated since it was applied,” he said.

Mr Najaar said 90 percent of schools in Mitchell’s Plain had been placed in quintile 5. “This has a major implication on the funding that the school receives from the WCED. Schools in the quintile 5 category are classified on the same level as former model C schools who charge exorbitant fees.

“We encourage our parents to make a concerted effort to prioritise the paying of their children’s school fees,” he said.

Education department spokesman Paddy Attwell said the department allocated posts to schools based mainly on the number of pupils at the school, with 45 posts having been allocated to Cedar High this year, based on an enrolment of 1 409 pupils.

“Cedar is an arts and culture focus school and received four posts for this purpose.

“Enrolment has since increased. The teacher to learner ratio is therefore currently 1: 31.8. This is still favourable compared to high schools in the Metro South Education District where the average ratio is 1: 33.37.”

Mr Atwell said the school had applied for three curriculum posts and one growth post. “Unfortunately, the department is unable to meet this request because the district has no more posts available for allocation,” he said.

Mr Atwell said provinces determined quintiles of individual schools based on national criteria.

“These criteria include the poverty ranking of the surrounding community, according to census data, and the percentage of schools that may fall within each quintile. Provinces can invite schools in quintiles 4 and 5 to apply for the status of no-fee schools in exceptional circumstances, budget permitting,” he said.

The WCED granted no-fee status to 216 schools on this basis in 2013. “Unfortunately, this is not possible currently for additional schools because of severe budget constraints,” he said.

Mr Atwell said parents could apply for exemption from paying school fees, based on their annual income. He said the WCED compensated schools for fee exemption, and had increased its budget steadily for this purpose in recent years.

“The budget for fee exemption this year is R50.5 million. Our district office is working with the school on how best to deploy their current establishment,” he said.

The Plainsman asked the WCED as well as the national Department of Basic Education about the possibility of the quintile system being reviewed, but by the time this edition went to print, they had not responded.