Schools battle to collect fees

TOUGHER economic times have led to more and more cashstrapped parents not paying their children’s school fees – even at more affluent schools – with the schools battling to recover the debt.

Settlers Park Primary School in Walmer said half its parents were being handed over to debt collectors due to non-payment.

Principal Andre Schlemmer said: “We are not an affluent school and our parents are already battling as it is.

“Paying school fees is simply not the No 1 priority for them any more.

“We have a situation where 50% of our parents are not paying and are being handed over for collection.”

Schlemmer said this left the school in a difficult situation as it now battled to pay teachers the school governing body had appointed.

“Education should be the most important expense, but you cannot get by without food so it is a catch 22 situation,” he said.

Victoria Park Grey Primary School principal Herman Frösler said the school wrote off between R400 000 and R500 000 in unpaid school fees each year.

“It is an ongoing challenge and I am concerned that it is not going to get better,” he said.

“Our school fees are R8 000 a year, but if every parent paid that amount on time we probably could have dropped the fees by R1 000,” Frösler said.

“The parents who are paying are technically subsidising those who are not paying.”

Alexander Road High School principal Dr Peter Manser said: “The tough economic times we are in have become evident and parents have had to tighten their belts in various places, but the majority still put their children’s education and the payment of school fees first.”

DF Malherbe High School principal Arno van Wyk said he had noted that more and more parents were applying for exemptions from school fees.

“We do these applications in secret as we respect their privacy,” Van Wyk said.

“When it comes to a subsidy application, the incomes of both parents are considered and, based on a formula, we then work out how much they need to pay.

“Some times it is 90% of the fees or it could be 80%, 70% or 50%,” Van Wyk said.

“However, there is still the small percentage of parents who do not pay and this has a huge impact on our budget,” he said.

The Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas) – which represents 2 000 governing bodies – said parents were more stretched financially.

In the Eastern Cape, Fedsas has 223 member schools and the average high school fees are R13 561 a year and R6 476 a year for primary schools.

Fedsas chief executive Paul Colditz said: “In general the sentiment and talk among our member schools is that it is indeed becoming tougher and things like food, bond repayments and transport are higher on the priority list than school fees.

“Recent increases have definitely had an impact.”

DebtBusters’ spokeswoman Wendy Monkley said: “South African consumers are facing extremely tough times.

“But as a parent myself, there is no doubt in my mind that people should pay school fees first, but because they are up to their eyeballs in debt, they often do not,” Monkley said.

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