Historic Bathurst school may close

ROB KNOWLES, CANDICE BRADFIELD and JON HOUZET

AFTER 192 years, Bathurst Primary School may have to close at the end of this month due to lack of funds and a scarcity of teaching staff.

School staff and the provincial education department are at loggerheads over the school’s classification – whether it is in fact a “no-fee” school – and how much of its budget is meant to come from the department.

Grade 3 and 4 teacher at the school, David le Roux, told TotT of the school’s plight and imminent closure, which would mean 108 pupils, the majority of whom come from Nolukhanyo township, would have to look for another school.

Last year the department paid the school R24 000 for the year, which Le Roux said was already insufficient, but this year they had only received a shockingly small payment of R877.50

“The department has allocated four teaching posts to the school but, so far, this has not happened,” said Le Roux. “We just can’t carry on any longer with no funding and no teachers.”

There are currently four teachers working at the primary school, two of whom are funded by the education department. The other two teachers are paid for from school fees.

Le Roux provided TotT with copies of correspondence between the school and the department to verify his claims.

An Eastern Cape education department “official final post establishment” document, dated February 28 2011, states Bathurst Primary School qualifies for a principal post (the current principal, Jill Clarke-McLeod is currently employed as a head of department, and not a principal) along with three other teaching posts, all supposedly funded by the department.

However, in the past 18 months, the school has been required to pay the salaries of two of its teachers from school funds.

“This has obviously led to a problem,” said Le Roux. “Not all parents are able to cope with a raise of the school fees. In fact, some parents, although employed and able to afford school fees do not pay the full amount of R350 per month.”

He said there were municipal officials whose children attended the school but they paid no school fees.

The school’s bank account shows there is only enough money available to pay another month of salaries, at close to R17 500, which will completely deplete the account.

In a letter addressed to Amos Fetsha, district director for the provincial department of education in Grahamstown, sent on May 25 this year, Clarke-McLeod warned him the school was in imminent danger of closing down.

“We are appealing to you to please address this disparity urgently in order to keep the school open in the interests of the 108 learners and five other staff members at Bathurst Primary,” she wrote.

Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said Bathurst Primary had been declared a no-fee school, “which means the department will finance the whole running of the school”.

The school merely needed to submit requests for its budget, he said.

Mtima said according to his records, the department paid for three teachers and a principal at the school, as according to the Morkel Model, the school qualified for four posts.

“If it’s a functional school, how come by June it’s spent all its budget?” Mtima said.

But he was unable to say how much money was allocated to the school, and how much they should have received by mid-year.

He said it appeared as if the teachers and SGB were attempting to get the school turned into a Section 21 school with control over its own budget, but the reason the department wanted it to be a no-fee school was because “it’s operating in a sea of poverty”.

Clarke-McLeod said she could not comment, but Le Roux insisted the school was still a Section 21 school, paying salaries from fees.

After sending application forms for funding for the two other teachers several times last year and again in February this year, Clarke-McLeod was told by the department on Tuesday that the forms had been received and they would look into the matter.

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