Schools fear losing SGB teachers, staff

Ridwaan Samodien, principal of Kannemeyer Primary.

School principals are at their wits’ end trying to find a solution to pay the salaries of school governing body (SGB) teachers and staff during lockdown, and fear that if they lose these workers it would have a huge impact on the normal functioning of the school.

Schools are dependent on school fees and fund-raisers to pay SGB teachers and staff .

However, due to the national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, parents can barely afford to pay school fees as many have been left without an income and most fund-raisers have been cancelled. Even as level 3 of the national lockdown came into force on Monday June 1 and schools are due to open, physical distancing still needs to be regulated and fewer teachers employed as pupils’ return is phased in, with Grades 7 and 12 first.

A few principals of schools in the Southern Mail’s distribution area shared their struggles and appealed to the government, the community, parents and businesses to help them keep paying the salaries of the SGB teachers and staff.

Ridwaan Samodien, principal of Kannemeyer Primary in Grassy Park, said they had eight people on the SGB dependant list. They hadn’t yet cut salaries and paid them in May.

“However, and we are going to struggle from next month to honour our commitment to them,” he said.

Mr Samodien said he had been in contact with all of the teachers and staff and informed them as “gently” as he could about their current financial woes and the implications of not being able to do fund-raisers or expect school fees to be paid.

“Teachers are also breadwinners, and this will have huge implications on their families to survive. With the huge unemployment rate, sending them to the ranks of the unemployed is hard and painful. The consequences of this is that for example, I may have to combine two classes and sit with 84 in a grade. We are going to have real challenges implementing social/physical distancing, should we have to lose any of our staff,” said Mr Samodien.

He said the school employed not only teachers, but also a secretary, a cleaner, a librarian and a computer specialist.

Graeme Ritchie is principal of Zeekoevlei Primary in Lotus River, where staff salaries had not been cut yet as they were holding on to these “dedicated people” working in challenging areas such as Lotus River.

The school has three SGB teachers and seven other SGB appointees including the feeding scheme cook, someone in the library, a counsellor, an art teacher, a drama teacher, a physical training (PT) teacher, and a bursar who also helped with a variety of things including the tuckshop.

Mr Ritchie said the government, “must step in and come forward with some form of compensation for the schools to help us cover salaries”.

Another suggestion was to appeal to more affluent schools to help the needy schools, he said.

“However, we will not lose hope and we will hold on to our good SGB people,” said Mr Ritchie.

Terence Klassen principal of Fairmount, in Grassy Park, said their school was ranked in Quintile 5 and classified “amongst the rich ex Model C and private schools” even though they serve Parkwood, Lotus and Grassy Park communities.

Mr Klassen said they have two SGB teachers. “One administration assistant and one security guard are being paid by the SGB. Four volunteers are being paid a stipend and two feeding scheme women who had also been paid a small stipend will not be paid this month.”

Mr Klassen said most of the volunteers help so that they can pay off their school fees.

He said the school managed to pay them for their services in April but will not be able to sustain this for May. “This will impact the normal functioning of the school,” he said.

Southern Mail contacted Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), a NPC whose mission is social change and asked how they would be able to assist these struggling schools.

Magali von Blottnitz, whose responsibilities include leading the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) team and designing a knowledge management system, from SSA’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility (PfP), said the SSA is in contact with over 1 000 under-resourced schools across all nine provinces of South Africa. “Based on concerns raised by our schools, we have identified the issue of SGB teachers and staff as a critical issue for the country at present.”

Ms Von Blottnitz said some of the possible responses that have emerged from this process include, “The possibility to receive funding relief from UIF-TERS, the possibility to connect to a better-resourced school in the same city or town, or to any other potential partner, to ask for some support. “

Ms Von Blottnitz said the possibility to reallocate some of the government funding within the framework of what is tolerated by the law is encouraged. This includes second-best options that may help to avoid retrenchments, such as demotion, deferred partial payment of salary, etc.

“We have also been encouraging those schools who are not yet done so, to take up a membership in a school governing body association (such as FEDSAS or the Governing Body Foundation, GBF) in order to receive more specialised support.”

She said PfP had been approached by many schools for guidance. “We encourage them to lodge an application for TERS. We are now in the process of following up with them to see to what extent applications have been successful. To encourage them to make contact with SGB-specialised associations, “ said Ms Blottnitz.

Responding on a way forward, Matakanye Matakanya, the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) general-secretary, said: “it’s really a crisis created by the pandemic, we have talked to the Department of Basic Education to assist where is possible. We also have spoken to the parents, those who are able, to please pay. We do not want to lose those teachers.”

He said to recruit teachers is a process and “we do not have time”.

Principals can contact Ms von Blottnitz on 072 179 2994.