KwaZulu-Natal - A KwaZulu-Natal association of independent schools, whose members claim they are owed millions in unpaid subsidies by the provincial education department, were expected to argue their case in the Constitutional Court on Thursday.

Should the KZN Joint Liaison Committee (JLC) fail at the Concourt, these independent schools could face closure.

The JLC is calling on the education department to pay independent schools the rest of the subsidies it promised for 2009. The department has paid 70 percent (R52 million) of the total subsidy amount of about R75m.

The committee started its legal battle two years ago but got no joy from the Pietermaritzburg High Court or the Supreme Court of Appeal.

It is hoping the Concourt will overturn Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen’s decision, in October last year, to dismiss its application.

It has sued Education MEC Senzo Mchunu, provincial department head Dr Nkosinathi Sishi and Basic Education Minister Angie Motsegka.

The committee said its members were promised subsidies for 2009, but only a portion was paid. As a result, many of these schools were battling to stay afloat and pay teachers.

Prior to this, the committee’s urgent application in December 2010 was struck off the roll as Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Rishi Seegobin ruled that the matter was not urgent.

In February, Judge Koen refused an application for leave to appeal and in June, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the committee’s application for leave to appeal.

According to committee chairman and school principal Ebrahim Ansur’s founding affidavit submitted to the Concourt, its members are a cross-section of the South African community and range from Roman Catholic to Muslim schools. He said the schools depended on state subsidies.

He argued that the department annually sent out a notice to members of the committee indicating the approximate subsidy expected for the following year. For all the years prior to 2009, the approximate amount indicated was exactly the amount paid in the following year.

Ansur said committee members used this department notice to establish their budget for the following year.

In 2009, he said, the department paid 70 percent of what was promised and this short-fall resulted in schools not being able to function properly.

Ansur felt Judge Koen erred in his judgment, saying the court should have ordered the department to pay the full amount owed or fix a percentage of the amount. The department had contended it had performed under the contract by paying the 70 percent.

The department said that it would cost the state 20 times as much to educate all the JLC school pupils in state schools as opposed to subsidising them in independent schools. It also said it did not have money to pay the full amount indicated in the subsidy notice, but also said it would accommodate JLC school pupils in state schools.

“The absurdity and contradiction in that is self-evident. If [the department] does not have money to pay the promised amount, where will it find 20 times as much, which is what it will cost to accommodate [our pupils] in state schools,” read Ansur’s affidavit. - Daily News