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Tuesday 21 November 2017
Local

Presbyterian school board cries neglect

Students protest outside the Sangre Chiquito Primary Presbyterian school in February this year. The existing school has been deemed unfit for occupation.

Yvonne Webb

The Presbyterian Church is claiming neglect by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in repairing and rebuilding primary schools under its control. The state of disrepair of the infrastructure, the church says, is hampering the performance of its students, and it called on Education Minister Anthony Garcia to address this as a matter of urgency.

Yesterday, a member of the Presbyterian Primary School Board identified some of the problem schools as those at Longdenville, Siparia Union, Curepe, Woodbrook, Sangre Chiquito, Piparo, Harmony Hall and Princes Town Presbyterian No 1.

He said the 136 students at the Longdenville school had not attended classes for the term because the premises were deemed to be unsafe. Similarly, the 375 students of Siparia Union have been kept away for the past six weeks owing to a fire. The Presbyterian-run Iere High School has offered temporary accommodation to the Siparia Union students but repairs are being carried out there, so the students are still at home.

The official explained that in 2002 Cabinet allocated a parcel of land at Cashew Gardens for the construction of the Longdenville Presbyterian School. The Commissioner of State Lands is yet to transfer the land to the church.

“Over the past 15 years, Longdenville Presbyterian has been sharing premises with the church and the Jerningham Government Primary School. Six months ago, the Industrial Court, in a matter brought by TTUTA, deemed both sites housing the school to be in violation of the OSH act and directed the MOE to find suitable accommodation for all staff and students.”

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was subsequently signed with the Ministry of Community Development to have the students accommodated in the Jerningham Community Centre. However, there was a delay in getting approval from the ministry to convert the premises for the school and for the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) to approve the work.

“The scheduled reopening for Monday in the Community Centre was shifted to Thursday due to late repairs. However, when students turned up on Thursday, the strong scent of fresh paint forced them to return home

“On Friday, only four standard five students showed up at school. Hopefully they will all be out on Monday,” the board official said.

Last month, the moderator, the Rt Rev Annabell Lalla-Ramkelawan and general secretary of the Primary School Board Alvin Seereram issued a joint statement pointing out that construction had stopped on several of their schools, which are in various stages of completion.

It listed the Curepe Presbyterian, which is 60 per cent complete; Woodbrook, 15 per cent, Piparo, five per cent; and Harmony Hall, for which a contract has been signed, but where all construction ceased in 2015. Additionally the buildings housing the Princes Town Presbyterian No 1 and Sangre Chiquito Presbyterian schools have been deemed unfit for occupation.

In spite of the poor state of its school structures, church officials said they were alarmed that funds were only allocated in the budget to complete the Siparia Union school.

The church said it had no authority to enter the sites under construction, as the Ministry of Education had full responsibility for the repairs, renovations and construction of school buildings under an MOU the denominational boards signed with the ministry in 2008.

Education Minister: No funds available

Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis said the ministry’s objective at this time was to finish schools all over the country which were in various stages of completion or incompletion, “but we simply don’t have the funding to do it.”

He said substantial sums were owed to contractors, some of whom had walked off the job because of non-payment.

“We owe, by EFCL’s (Education Facilities Company Ltd) count, a tremendous sum. I am not sure of the figure, because the sands keep shifting,for obvious reasons: we keep doing repairs, so the sums will keep shifting.”

In the last fiscal year, he said, “We paid out $200 plus million to contractors, but the sum is so tremendous that it may not have made a significant dent to us. It is something the Cabinet will have to address going forward, because it is a tremendous sum owed to contractors. I doubt the sum allocated (in the budget) would be sufficient to pay off contractors in its entirety.”

He said with money in short supply, the ministry would have to prioritise projects and would also explore the option of transferring money from one area to another with approval from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning if there was any shortfall in areas of priority.

“There is no slight intended on the Presbyterian Board. We have a very good relationship with the Presbyterian Board. It is the same situation that we are facing and every school board is facing.”

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