School Fees Fracas: Why Schools Want What Parents Don’t Want to Give?
From the perspective of parents who have wards studying in the private schools of Guwahati, the following opinion seems just right.
“We agree that teachers and other staff should be paid full salaries but other than that, they do not have other expenses. May be some schools have EMI of buses or something extra. In that case, our only appeal is that since the government of India has also instructed schools to collect only 50 percent of fees for the month of April which all schools have agreed to, now we are requesting schools to take 50 percent of actual tuition fees even for the next few months till schools reopen in a full-fledged manner and 50 percent of the bus fees towards salaries of drivers, handymen etc,” said Sanjay Sureka talking to G Plus.
Sureka happens to be the state president of International Human Rights Council of the Social Justice Department besides also being a parent. He has also taken this matter up on social media to garner opinion.
“The readmission charges are also too high; as per the gazette notification of Assam, in the beginning, there was a clause where it was clearly stated that re-admission fee should not exceed double the amount of tuition fee,” added Sureka.
After online classes, hike of fees and hundreds of schools being requisitioned as quarantined centres in the state, this new issue has hit indignant Guwahatians who have enrolled their children in private schools.
Parents across the city have raised concerns over schools charging tuition, transport and other fees despite schools being closed for students. Schools have allegedly been charging fees for infrastructure, sports, laboratories, computer classes, smart classes and a lot of other things that parents find unfair given the present scenario.
Sureka, along with a few other parents, plan to meet the chief minister, finance minister (who also happens to be the education minister) and the Governor in this regard. They plan to submit a memorandum to the government; their main issue of concern being negligible to no concession in the monthly fee structure by schools.
These parents have informed G Plus that they have requested almost all private schools in the city to charge only 50 percent of bus or tuition fees till schools reopen and have also requested for the rest of the charges to be waived off. They have already submitted memorandums to Sarala Birla Gyan Jyoti, Sanskriti - The Gurukul, Royal Global School and Delhi Public School, Khanapara.
Some parents have joined hands and collectively drafted a common memorandum which has been e-mailed to private schools across the city.
“One or two schools have responded but the rest have not even responded. Some have given us vague responses; Delhi Public School, Khanapara has officially rejected it and Sanskriti - The Gurukul also has not agreed,” said Sanjay Sureka whose child happens to be a student enrolled in one of the city’s private schools.
“Schools must understand that this is not a normal situation; this is the time of a pandemic. It is clear that schools are not going to open for another 3 months at least. I don’t think even if schools reopen, any parent will be willing to send their child under the age of 12 or 10 to school given the present scenario of COVID-19. Forcing parents to pay full fees despite schools being shut and without there being any clarity about when schools will open, is completely wrong,” said another parent, Anurag Bajaj on the issue.
An advisory issued by the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) had asked all deputy commissioners in the month of April to ensure that parents were not pressurised into paying monthly school fees, admission fees or any other fees till further instruction by the government of Assam.
To get the perspective of the schools, G Plus got in touch with the managements of the various schools. It was given to understand that the schools have operational costs that needed to be covered.
“We have given some kind of concession in the bus fee. School is not running for students but the teachers are conducting classes. The time may be less, about 4 to 5 classes in a day but it is very hectic for them because even they are new to online classes,” said a spokesperson of Sarla Birla Gyan Jyoti.
On transportation fees being charged by the school, the spokesperson said, “Buses are not running. So the fuel component we have not taken into account while taking the bus fee because there is maintenance cost, salary of staff and helpers.” The school usually charges bus fees amounting to Rs 7,500 on a quarterly basis and the school has provided Rs 1,800 discount to parents on the total fee charged for transportation.
“The existence of the school is still there. We come to school daily. The teachers are coming daily. If tomorrow we receive a notification from the government asking schools to reopen in a day or two, then we have to ensure that the school is in a condition to be operational,” said an official from Sarala Birla Gyan Jyoti.
The responses of the Sanskriti – The Gurukul was more or less similar even as G Plus reached out to its principal, Ajanita Hazarika.
“We are an ICSE School. I have been in touch with Assam Valley School, Shiksha – The Gurukul and a few other CBSE schools and this was the consensus of all principals. When the official notice came from the government in April, we straight away waived off the said fees. What we do time and again is that we send some communiqué from the principal’s desk to all the parents. There must have been a misconception among parents to say that we have taken IT fees, STEM fees (Atal Tinkering Lab), or fees for science activities, workshops; nothing has been taken towards these,” said Ajanita Hazarika, principal of Sanskriti – The Gurukul.
“The pandemic is something which just came suddenly. In the month of April these fees were not taken, in the month of May these fees were not taken and it was also clearly stated that these fees will not be charged till these activities are operational. We also have a managing committee with representatives from among the parents. Ours is a day-boarding school where children are provided meals. So because they are not taking meals, 20 percent of the fees have already been brought down without anybody asking for it,” said the principal.
She went on to add that if any parent has a difficulty, the management of the school would understand the same and would be willing to discuss them over the table.
“Why we cannot waive off 50 percent of the fees is because exams will begin very soon. We are taking this amount also so that we can ensure the safety and well being of their children. We have to pay the drivers, guards, the handymen, helpers; we have EMIs on our buses. Our school has had the privilege of a new infrastructure with new ACs with EMIs due. In addition to all this, we are going to change our entire sanitization system; all that entails expenses. Some schools might just keep sanitization bottles. We will completely change the entire system from pedal sanitizer to contact-free sanitization in the washrooms so that our children are absolutely safe!” said Ajanita Hazarika, highlighting the school’s initiative to prevent the spread of the infection among children once the school reopens.
Speaking exclusively to G Plus Binita Jain, Senior Coordinator and official spokesperson of Royal Global School, said that whatever total revenue a school gets from a child, it is the cumulative amount for many heads of expenses.
“Be it the tuition fee, the transport fee or any other fee paid in the name of license perhaps, or for various things which have been purchased by schools for the benefit of children; which regardless of whether they are being used presently, must be paid for,” said Binita Jain.
Jain added that out of the total revenue which is generated by a school, 60 to 70 percent of it goes towards payment of staff salaries. “Speaking of our school, considering the vast area that we cover, the infrastructure that we have; maintenance of all this requires lot of manpower. Irrespective of whether schools are open or not, we must pay them salaries because that is how they will survive the Pandemic,” said Jain.
Regarding collection of transport fee Jain said that only 15 percent of the same covers cost of fuel. However, the bus drivers and conductors must be paid salaries besides the upkeep and maintenance costs that continue being incurred. Besides these, the fixed cost for electricity is also huge given the size of the school.
The city’s private schools have chalked out plans to fight COVID-19. From numbering seats in school buses to accommodating not more than 50 percent students in a classroom, everything will be done to combat the dreaded virus, ensured the schools. Teachers will have to work extra hours; they will get fewer breaks and will have to constantly be on the run, taking extra classes due to addition of new sections in each batch of students.
It is pertinent to mention that G Plus had reached out to DPS Khanapara as well but could not elicit a response from the school’s management.