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To All Heads and Chairmen of ATS member schools
This email is designed to update schools on the most recent developments in regard to school closures, fee increase applications etc. At the time of writing several heads and board members have been detained in police cells; yet others have been required to attend police stations and have made warned and cautioned statements; all of these actions apparently pursuant to charges under the Education Act in respect of fees. Everything possible is being done to support and advise these colleagues. A number of ATS schools have re-opened having been cleared to do so by Ministry following signature by the schools of "acceptance certificates".
A small ATS / CHISZ delegation was finally able to meet with the Permanent Secretary and several of his colleagues this morning. Neil Todd / the ATS office is now working with ministry officials to establish the exact status of all member schools in regard to compliance with the most recent directives and in order that schools which remain closed can be re-opened. This matter is extremely urgent, not only because of the prejudice being suffered but because we have been advised by the Permanent Secretary that the deadline for compliance is tomorrow, Friday 7 May and not 14 May as reported in the Herald and as indicated by the Minister during his meeting with parent representatives. We have been advised that failure to comply before the expiry of the deadline will lead to a "different administrative course of action" which is understood to mean the government "takeover" of schools which remain "incompliant".
Can schools who have not yet re-opened or have not yet been offered the opportunity to sign an "acceptance certificate" please contact their PED and / or the Ministry immediately to establish their current status; please also advise the ATS office. In essence, the acceptance certificates indicate that schools accept that their fees should not exceed the level approved by Ministry and that they will remain at this level for the remainder of 2004. It appears that in the case of schools which have been notified of approved fee levels for first term 2004 that this is the fee applicable and in the case of other schools, fees may yet be awaiting determination by Ministry based on applications for increases over and above those applicable to third term 2003.
Boards of member schools are of course entitled to decide how best to proceed, perhaps based on advice received, and this applies both to the signing [or not] of "acceptance certificates" and to legal action. The ATS advises that schools should sign these certificates as the only practical present means of being permitted to re-open but that they should submit to PEDs and Ministry letters indicating their sincere desire and intention, on behalf of and pursuant to a mandate from parents, to enter into negotiations in good faith for possible further adjustments to fees. The ATS is continuing to seek legal advice and urges member schools not to allow themselves to be co-opted into processes of legal action which may have motivations different from the immediate school fees / closures issue. Member schools are of course autonomous and may choose to take legal action on their own behalf including the seeking of injunctive relief.
Meetings have been held involving parents and representatives of PTAs and PLCs from several member schools. A small committee was appointed and met on 5 May with Minister Chigwedere. The substance of the discussion and statements made by the Minister were reported back to parent representatives at a further meeting last night. These may be summarised as follows :
· Government will not tolerate the continuing defiance of private schools in seeking to exceed approved fee increases
· Should schools fail to comply with the Ministry's directives by Friday 14 May [NB : Perm Sec advises this should be 7 May] by signing the acceptance document, Government will take over these schools forthwith - they will be nationalised. Will take 3 - 5 years to apply to get back ownership / running of school
· Parents must not fear as government will take over - don't worry about time lost - August holidays shorter, no half term weekend
· Private schools registered conditionally - temporary licence given by government
· Government not responsible for closure of schools, merely not allowed to open
· expecting legal action and loop holes to be exploited and these will be closed immediately. Court orders will be defied - schools will not open on legal action
· one increase per annum - applications to be submitted by 31 October and response by 30 November. Spoke extensively of 10% allowance - if above, will entertain application
· Donations will not be permitted, all levies will be policed
· Not fighting intransigence but racism. Fee hikes racist measures to throw out blacks - "racist war"
· Pupil and staff ratios minimum of 60% black. Spoke about racial composition of Boards / ATS and CHISZ - only meet with whites - where are the blacks?
· Informers in school, know how dissatisfied parent body are. "Sad year for you all" - elections next year and there are constituents out there who show us receipts and complain - these are votes for us.
· Boards must have one government rep
· Government grant allows 20:1 pupil staff ratio
During the meeting with the Perm Sec this morning, we were advised that fee increases needed to be "reasonable" in the context of the present economic environment given poor harvests. During discussion on the issue of negotiation he made it clear that whereas there was a general right to appeal decisions made by ministry in fixing school fees, in all cases Ministry had addressed itself to all the circumstances and in fixing fees at levels below those applied for had determined that there was "excessive fat". It was very clear that Ministry have been alarmed by the level of increase in fees implemented or applied for by some schools and there is no doubt that in failing to follow consistent previous ATS advice, some of our members have made rods for our backs by having fallen way behind inflation during past years.
There are obviously serious implications for schools signing acceptance certificates, thereby pegging fees at levels below, and in some cases very considerably below, those which they had contemplated charging for second term 2004; not to speak of the "over charge" in respect of the first term. The considerable reduction in revenue which flows from this position has serious consequences for schools, some of which may render themselves insolvent almost immediately and facing extreme difficulties in relation to possible contractual and other commitments to staff and suppliers. All schools must urgently take steps to make parents aware and consult with them in regard to measures which will need to be taken in order that schools can operate on such lower revenue bases. Thereafter, and with very explicit parental support, schools should consider approaching the authorities to discuss possible fee adjustments based on proven and reasonable costs necessary to sustain the level of service required by parents.
The Government perception is that in our Trust schools parents are insufficiently involved in the decision making processes including the setting of service delivery standards, staff pupil ratios, development expenditure, budgets and fees. Schools should revisit their structures and must in particular ensure that parents are fully informed and consulted in regard to the chosen way forward for each school as it relates to cost structures and revenue generation.
Please keep the ATS office, Neil Todd and David Long fully informed of your situation. Our objective is to get children back into school with the least possible further disruption and thereafter to seek fair and durable solutions to this issue. We remain committed to the dialogue and consultation process based on mutual respect and honesty.
Yours sincerelyDAVID LONG and NEIL TODD