Johannesburg - The Gauteng Department of Education is forging ahead with its school merging pilot project and come January next year 10 schools – two in each of the province’s five metros – will have a merged school governing body (SGB).
Speaking at a press briefing after tabling the department’s R32.8 billion budget for 2014/15 at the Gauteng Legislature last week, Lesufi said the department’s aim was to “stretch the rand” and ensure that resources in the education system were shared.
“That’s the hallmark of my administration – the capability of the system to share the resources that we have across all the learners, teachers and parents in the system,” he said.
“For us to deliver a quality education, a school in Sundown and a school in Alexandra must share their sporting facilities, their library, because I won’t have money to build a laboratory in Alexandra. Our motivation for twinning the schools is to maximise resources and efficiency and the desire to have quality education, nothing else. It has nothing to do with politics.”
If everything goes according to plan, well-resourced schools will be merged with poor schools, and the unified schools will have one principal, one SGB and one bank account. The schools will share resources, facilities and staff members.
Lesufi first spoke of his plans to merge or twin schools soon after his appointment as the MEC in May this year, saying he won’t “preside over a tweaked apartheid education system”.
Speaking at the legislature last week, he said the department has identified 10 schools, five pairs of two, that will start this process.
Unlike all the other state schools in the province, these schools will not take part in the SGB elections scheduled for March next year.
“For now, we’re saying at the beginning of the year these two schools will be controlled by one governing body and depending on the relationship, then we’ll elevate it to the next stage after June, which is the sharing of bank accounts etc. For now, for a start, it’s only the school governing bodies that will merge,” he said.
“We want people to get used to working with each other so that it won’t be too drastic and shake and scare them… We are now only taking one section of the South African Schools Act which allows for the merging of school governing bodies. The two governing bodies won’t have elections; (they) will constitute an interim governing body at the beginning of the year… which will manage the budget of the two schools,” he said.
Lesufi said he had no intention of forcing schools to take part in this process.
“Everyone I’ve met with supports this programme. The only fear is how we are handling it and how we’re consulting and I’ve assured them I’ll consult to the last drop of my blood. I’m not going to coerce anyone. That is why I don’t want to mention the names because the affected schools’ governing bodies said: ‘MEC talk to us, we’re willing but take us through’.
“I’m publishing the guidelines so that they understand that when they merge, what are the things they can do, what are the things they can’t do so that everyone is clear whether they accept the process or not…” he said.
Lesufi said part of the reason he was championing this approach, was because the department couldn’t keep up with ballooning personnel costs, which take up 75 percent of the budget. He said the system can no longer afford the one-school-one-principal format.
“It’s too much, we can’t. So we need to have one dynamic principal, who has the capability, the talent, the skill and the qualification to lead two schools so that we save on the personnel costs.”
The two schools will have a principal and a centre manager.
Lesufi said these changes would ultimately impact on how the district offices are structured.
“We need to re-engineer the district offices… I’m of the view that we can reduce them so that we cut the fat and manage the schools effectively. We must take resources to schools and ensure that schools have more capacity,” he said.
The DA’s spokesman on education, Khume Ramulifho, also raised concern on the salary costs.
“As a result of these ongoing increases, it means the department has no money to fill teaching vacancies to reduce the learner/educator ratio
. The budget book confirms that the average class sizes at schools will not materialise. This has a direct impact on core business of the department which is provision of quality learning and teaching,” he said.
Ramulifho also called for a reduction of personnel at the department’s district and head offices. “Many of these personnel were teachers before, so ask them to go back to the classroom and teach. They will reduce the learner/educator ratio,” he