School urges parents to pay school fees

Harmony Primary School teachers are working much harder after some staff have had to leave.

Resources at Harmony Primary School are being stretched to the limit as the school battles to collect fees.

The Steenberg school has already lost Grade 3 and Grade 5 teachers, a librarian and a bursar who had to resign because there was not enough funds to pay their salaries.

The staff are now pleading with parents to pay their children’s fees so they don’t have to lose more of their colleagues.

The school called an emergency meeting on Thursday September 28 to discuss the way forward as fewer teachers mean bigger classes which make it even more difficult to focus on discipline.

Teacher Anne Fernandez said the school has been struggling to get the parents to pay school fees, but parents have not been forthcoming. “Unfortunately only six parents attended the meeting and they were mostly parents who do pay their schoolfees.”

She said out of the 794 children at the school, only 29% of parents have paid their school fees to date. “The school cannot function properly. We have to pay our rates, lights, water, and for paper and posters if we have an event. Most of the time we use money out of our own pockets.”

She said if they could collect at least 50% of the school fees, they might be able to keep their heads above water. However, she said, parents don’t seem to show any interest in the school’s activities. “We had a fund-raising comedy show last month, but it was not well attended,” said Ms Fernandez.

She said despite the setbacks, the morale of the teachers remained high as they still went the extra mile for pupils by giving additional classes after school and also running weekend programmes such as hikes.

However, the teachers still have a tough time handling big classes and disciplining the children.

Ms Fernandez said before the librarian left, they would split classes in two so half went to the library and the other half to the computer room.

“Now we have to squeeze the whole class in the computer room,” she said.

However, principal Ivor Nober, has started a turnaround programme which involves teaching pupils how to behave and show respect.

Ms Fernandez said there are solutions to the fees problem but the school would appreciate it if the parents would communicate with them about their circumstances.

“The parents can apply for an exemption form if they can’t afford to pay,” she said.

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said they received thousands of applications for fee exemptions every year.

“There are currently 569 public ordinary fee paying schools in the Western Cape. In 2016, the WCED paid out fee compensation to 551 of these schools. This means that the WCED is assisting 97.01% of our fee paying schools.

“Parents qualify for exemption if the school fees are more than 10% of the parents’ combined annual salary. They can also apply for partial exemption if the fees represent between 2% and 10% of their annual salary depending on the number of children they have at a fee-paying, public school. A successful application for fee exemption ultimately means that the parent is exempted from paying school fees. This therefore means that the school will not receive that specific learner’s school fees which places strain on the school’s finances. Harmony Primary is a fee paying school and school fees are determined by the school governing body (SGB) annually. A parent is liable to pay the
school fees and can apply to
the SGB for full or partial exemption.”

When asked when a school can be declared a no-fee school, Ms Shelver said: “In 2013 the WCED offered 216 public schools serving poorer communities the option to apply for no-fee status. This was done to assist our poorest schools in quintiles 4 and 5 in alleviating some of the funding difficulties they face. While we recognise the important role that fee exemptions play in granting access to the poor and relief in tough eco-
nomic times, we are also cog-
nisant of the fact that many of our schools are struggling finan-
cially and are dependent on the collection of school fees in
order to sustain various projects, resources or governing body staff establishments in their schools.”

When asked what the WCED can provide Harmony Primary, Ms Shelver said: “The school receives Norms and Standards fund-
ing, they also receive compen-
sation for school fee exemption and the school corporate officers will assist the school in drawing up their budget for 2018 and also advise on managing their fund-