Private schools thrown into financial crisis as Covid-19 persists
Winstone Chiseremi, Mwangi Mumero and Noven Owiti
Proprietors of private schools are in dilemma over how to pay salaries for hundreds of teachers and non-teaching staff in the wake of coronavirus pandemic that has forced the government to close all schools.
Scholar has established that most private institutions are struggling to meet operational costs.
Parents who owe the institutions millions of shillings are withholding payments in a wait-and-see game over the pandemic while others have already lost their jobs.
Rev Dickson Otigo, a director of Lifespring Academy in Kisumu town, says they are unable to run normal operations due shortage of funds.
“We have been thrown into financial crisis by the pandemic and cannot pay teachers and the support staff.
Parents are no longer paying fees balances, yet the school is run from fees collections.
Our school management has held discussions with employees and briefed them accordingly,” he says.
Given the trend of slashing salaries in the private sector in these recessionary times, teachers are apprehensive employers may slash their dues if the emergency break is prolonged.
Some boarding secondary schools are being prepared as isolation centres for Covid-19 patients and fears of a prolonged “emergency break” have surged among tutors.
The concern is, especially palpable in teachers and other staff working in private institutions.
“With schools closed and job losses among many parents now a reality, payment of fees balances will be a challenge.
We may be forced to cut salaries as the month rolls,” says the administrator of a private academy in Kitengela.
Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) National secretary Charles Ochome says the government stands to lose about Sh30 billion in taxes paid by private schools if the pandemic continues. “All sectors of the economy are now feeling the pinch,” he says.
Review pay terms
The association is advising private school managers to talk to their staff to find amicable solutions to the situation.
“Every school management should find a way to manage the circumstances,” says Ochome, also the director of Kisumu’s Golden Elites Academy.
Whereas his institution has settled March salaries, terms of service for staff is subject to be reviewed should the situation extend.
The director says his management team has held talks with the staff regarding the crisis and expects them to understand if the situation worsens.
“Going forward, we will have to re-negotiate with workers if the pandemic persists. We undertook these short-term measures hoping the crisis ends soon,” adds Ochome.
Last Month, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered all schools closed for 30 days in a move to check the spread of the Covid-19.
The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) has since assured its more than 300,000 tutors under its payroll that they will receive full salaries for March despite the crisis.
TSC said there should be no cause for panic as salaries have already been processed and sent to bank accounts.
Proprietors of private schools in the North Rift said they are exploring various options on the staff salaries for the period that they will be off duty.
Talking to the Scholar at different venues in Eldoret, Iten and Kitale towns, the entreprenuers warned that the worst-case scenario is to send all the staff away on unpaid leave.
Led by Anne Samoei of Gethsemane Christina Academy and Anthony Ndung’u of Testimony Academy in Eldoret, they said some schools have paid salaries, but others are yet to pay as many parents had not cleared fees arrears by the time schools were ordered closed.
“We will be seeking legal advice on the implication of sending all their staff on unpaid leave.
We are still holding consultation on the matter with other stakeholders with a view to assess the implications of the decision that we intend to take in the course of this month,” said Samoei
Ndung’u said their only source of income that enables them to run the institutions was school fees. “We will not be able to pay teaching staff salaries for the period the schools will remain closed due to coronavirus,” he said.
Stephen Cheboiboch of Salaba Academy in Elegoyo Marakwet county says they are contemplating how to pay full salaries for the period workers could be at home.
"We are in a dilemma as we do not know when the State will order the re-opening of schools.
We will consult with the Ministry of Education on the way forward,” said Cheboiboch, a retired marathon athlete.
Joseph Keter, an official of KPSA in the North Rift region, warned that the financial crisis will worsen if coronavirus outbreak is not contained in the next two months.
His Lamplighter School in Kitale town was owed more than Sh500,000 in fees by the time schools closed.
“We fear that some parents might take advantage of the crisis to transfer their kids to other institutions,” he said.
The Executive director of Green Light Education Christopher Serem wants the State to cushion private institutions from the effects of Covid-19.
“Majority of bright learners from the vulnerable family backgrounds we have been supporting could drop out of school completely,” he said.
Uncertainty on how long the break will last is also a contentious among parents.
They had paid the first term school fees and are unsure when studies will resume. “Idle children also tend to eat a lot,” said Jane Ooko of Kajiado.
The parents are worried about the state of their children when they head to work or to their businesses. Some pupils just idle away the time either watching TV or browsing the Internet
“As a working parent, it has been a trying time pondering on what my kids are doing these perilous times.
Playtime with neighbours’ children is dangerous. Left on their own, older children are mischievous and can involve themselves in drugs,” a worried Susan Chege said.