South Africa: Budget shortfall puts independent schools under threat

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Msindisi Fengu

One of Gauteng’s best-performing independent schools may be forced to shut down next year.

This is because the Gauteng department of education, which has a R61 million budget shortfall, could not pay subsidies in full to more than 200 such schools this year.

Masibambane College, located in Orange Farm, has produced a 100% matric pass rate since 2013 and has assisted several underperforming schools in the area.

The college’s headmaster, Ernest Fingxa, said the department approved a subsidy of almost R10.3 million for 2018/19, but has paid only R7.7 million for the last three quarters, having promised to pay the remaining R2.6 million last month. The department disburses funds to schools in four tranches a year.

“To our surprise we were told that the last tranche would be cut by R790 000, but it has not been paid as we speak. If the situation remains as it is we will only survive January 2019. I do not know whether we will still be open in March,” Fingxa said.

His school has 39 teachers, who are paid from the subsidy and school fees.

We have seen letters to the department written by Fingxa and Reverend Roger Cameron, the Anglican Board of Education in Southern Africa CEO and council chairperson of Masibambane. Their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department had a R61 million budget shortfall which had to be taken from the R731 million approved budget for independent schools.

The shortfall, he said, resulted from an increase in the number of pupils moving to Gauteng from other provinces.

Last year, the department allocated just more than R691 million to independent schools.

In a letter to the Gauteng education department on October 25, Fingxa detailed how the school had also been able to help residents of the poor Johannesburg township.

“Masibambane College is running an aftercare programme for community pupils from different schools (Leshata, Aha-Thuto and Mphethi-Mahlatsi), who are unable to pay fees at Masibambane College,” he said.

Fingxa described the school as a “beacon of hope” and begged: “Please do not kill this hope and leave our pupils and parents destitute. Orange Farm is faced with the serious plight of poverty and socioeconomic challenges.”

In a letter sent to the department the following day, Cameron said any move to reduce the college’s subsidy would prejudice pupils and prevent them from receiving quality education.

“Masibambane does not have any large donors and is dependent on school fees and the subsidy to be sustainable. There is absolutely no excess in the school’s budget to allow it to recover the loss.

“It will enter next year with no money in the bank and the school will not be able to pay salaries in February/March 2019. The school will then close and at that stage the Gauteng Department of Education will need to find places for approximately 1 100 children.

“This will be multiplied by the many others who rely on subsidised independent schools.”

National education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “Those independent schools that qualify for subsidy are provided with an indication of how much they are likely to receive next year and should plan accordingly. The economic conditions of the country come with making hard decisions and, as such, affect everybody and all the sectors.”

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