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Who’s Paying?

One of the constant struggles I experience in my leadership of our school is the constant stream of requests for school fee subsidy. More now than ever before families are experiencing financial pressure and are looking for ways to reduce monthly expenses.My colleagues in other schools report the same phenomenon.

Our school is an independent school and as such receives no subsidisation from national or provincial government. Our ability to pay our staff, provide resources for high quality education, pay for operational overheads and maintain our buildings is dependent on fundraising and school fees. Small schools such as ours need to ensure growing enrolment to ensure income is maintained to pay all the necessary monthly bills, including the salaries of staff who continue to give of their best despite their payment being lower than their counterparts in state schools.

Here then is the conundrum : If we close the door to fee subsidy requests we risk losing families who may be in a better position to pay in months to come – a case of having some money in rather than none at all. On the other hand, if we constantly meet subsidy requests based on proven need, we run the risk of compromising our cash flow which could have very serious consequences for operational requirements on an already tight budget.

I admit that I find this a particularly difficult part of my job. We have a subsidy application process and requests are dealt with within a subsidy policy framework. Despite this and the fact that our Board is very supportive of me in this process, I am the one who has to face these parents and their children. I remind myself that parents have a choice as to where to send their children and that this choice is not my responsbility. Sometime this is cold comfort!

I have come to realise that not every parent values education in the way I feel they should. For some the payment of school fees seems to be an optional extra, something they will pay should the disposable income allow it. Fortunately our payment policy soon puts an end to parents thinking they can leave school fee payments to chance. If parents have chosen to send their children to an independent school they must be willing and able to pay the required fees?

It is incredibly humbling to meet parents who are doing everything in their power to afford the required school fees and who are diligent about paying on time. It is also very frustrating, annoying and anger-inducing when parents who are obviously able to afford their children’s school fees choose to pay late or not at all and thereby compromise the financial stability of the school.

Another issue that raises its head is whether it is fair to offer subsidies at all! When fee reductions are given they effectively require the remaining full fee-paying parents to subsidise the reduced-fee pupils. This has an obvious implication when it comes to setting annual school fees as subsidised fees need to be taken into consideration. This can push up the school fees for everyone in the parent body. Is this fair?

Yet another issue is that of the suspension of children due to non-payment of school fees. My business intuition tells me that this is the right way to go while the educator in me pulls in the opposite direction believing that children should be in school and not have to sacrifice educational opportunities because of the irresponsibility of parents. This is a constant struggle in my heart and mind.

What happens in your school? Feel free to share your thoughts and best practice ideas in the comments.