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Durban - Classrooms at KwaZulu-Natal public schools will have even fewer books next year as the provincial Department of Education has cut its allocation for pupil-teacher support materials by 13 percent.
The funds are instead being diverted towards the compensation of employees as the cash-strapped department revealed it owed staff hundreds of millions of rand.
The department has cut R155 million from its books budget – on top of the R500m already cut from its infrastructure programme – its top officials told members of the KZN legislature’s portfolio committee on Tuesday.
The R500m would have been spent on new school buildings and to maintain the existing ones.
The budget for classroom materials was R1.2 billion, which would drop by about R155m after the cut.
Department head Nkosinathi Sishi said the province was already facing a shortage of books. With five pupils for every one book in many KZN public schools this represented one of the worst ratios in the country, he said.
But the department was so in need of money to pay employees that it found itself having very little choice, it said.
Its chief financial officer, Hlengiwe Mcuma, said the financial pressures in relation to the compensation of employees dated back to the 2008/9 financial year.
With salary increases and the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) not budgeted for, the department had been unable to pay all employees from its compensation allocation. This left the department in a situation where it owed employees hundreds of millions of rand.
Recently the SA Democratic Teachers Union embarked on a work-to-rule demanding that the department pay some of the money owed to staff.
Sishi said the department was already in the process of paying out the funds owed to employees but indicated that it would not refund those teachers whose salaries were docked when the no-work-no-pay rule was implemented during a strike in 2010.
It would pay staff R360m in respect of OSD fees for therapists, salary progression, relocation costs and salary upgrades for principals and Level 4 workers.
The total cuts from other programmes now amount to R1.042bn but the target is R1.1bn.
Other programmes that would suffer cuts include employee bursaries (to be cut by R15m), catering for departmental activities (R5m) stationery and printing (R20m), training and development (R60m), assets (R22m), machinery and equipment (R200m), venues and facilities (R3m), operating leases (R15m), and property payments (R40m).
Some of the savings would fund the many unfunded posts.
“There are 1 866 employees who are in the system but who we don’t have money to pay,” Sishi said, explaining that this meant that no posts could be filled without cutting from other programmes.
He said there were critical posts such as those of circuit managers, which currently could not be filled.
The department’s new organogram reflects 800 posts but many of these, too, cannot be filled.
The KZN department – the largest education department in the country – is already spending 87 percent of its budget on the employee compensation.
Sishi appealed for more resources, saying: “If you give us the job to run this system, please also give us the tools to do the job.”
Members of the legislature sounded shocked at hearing of the dire financial state of the department. Priscilla McKay, an ANC MPL, warned: “We know that other African countries have had their Arab springs, we know of 1976. Eventually our children will stand up and rebel against this.”
The committee tasked newly appointed MEC Peggy Nkonyeni with pleading the department’s case at the meeting of ministers and provincial MECs.