Education Department throws R30m lifeline to schools struggling to pay utility bills
Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said the department was concerned about the increased number of schools that owed municipalities exorbitant amounts of money for their water and electricity accounts.
When school’s re-opened this month, Mshengu had urged municipalities to assist it dealing with illegal water and electricity connections by communities at some of its schools.
In March last year, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) revealed that Durban schools were battling to pay high electricity bills with three (uMlazi Comtech, Sivananda Technical School and Adams College) collectively owing eThekwini Municipality over R10m. Adams College owed R4.6m, uMlazi Comtech R4m and Sivananda Technical school R3m.
Mshengu said yesterday the department had learnt that in some instances schools ignored their bills.
“The department also discovered that many affected schools are those in communities where illegal electricity and water connection is rife. In 2019, the department provided some relief to some schools, over and above the norms and standards, where a total of R48m was paid to eThekwini Municipality alone,” he said.
Mshengu urged school principals to exercise sound management practices and not allow a situation where bills were not paid on time.
“This is irresponsible behaviour which leads to the disruption of teaching and learning when municipalities decide to cut their services,” he said.
Mshengu said the most affected schools were in the uMlazi and Pinetown Districts.
He urged all principals to engage with municipalities and make arrangements to pay outstanding fees.
“We urge communities to co-operate with us in dealing with this matter by stopping to utilise services meant for schools, and for those who are aware of cases where illegal connections take place to report the matter. We’re going to be very strict with school principals who abdicate their management responsibilities of ensuring that municipal services are paid,” he said.
Sadtu provincial secretary Nomrashiya Caluza said they appreciated the assistance by the department and called for the municipality to put schools on prepaid meters.
“Besides illegal connections, some schools were incorrectly billed as they were treated like businesses. We’ve also discovered that some schools are billed even during the holidays,” said Caluza.
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the problem of schools and residents in general not paying their municipality bills was a concern. While the municipality paid a large sum buying water and electricity to supply its residents, it was faced with a problem of not recovering the money it spent.