OVER the past two weeks, the Ministry of Education held two meetings concerning the proposed merger of the Mon Repos and Patience Combined Schools.
The Ministry has listed the deplorable conditions under which the Mon Repos Combined Primary School currently lies, and the massively decreased enrollment numbers of both schools in question, as the two main reasons for the consideration of the merger.
However, the parents of both schools have said that these reasons provided by the Ministry, are not a good enough explanation for the proposal.
From the Ministry’s Standpoint
Kendall Khodra, Deputy Chief Education Officer Responsible for Planning stated it clearly; the increasing annual maintenance costs, combined with the reality of annual declining student numbers at both schools, are the main reasons this merger is being proposed by the Ministry.
He pointed out at the meeting in Patience, that “even before (2015)…we had recognized that Mon Repos Combined was one of the schools…in severe need for rehabilitation. The school was deteriorated to (such an) extent that…it was one of the 15 schools that we had to enlist…under what we call the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project. (DVRP) This is a World Bank funded project.”
He went on to say that “all that could have been addressed at this point under the DVRP was to get a comprehensive assessment of those fifteen schools; and for Mon Repos (the cost of repair) was $340 000”; a figure that confirmed what the Voice Newspaper had been told a week earlier, by one of the parents of the Mon Repos Combined Primary School.
The Deputy Chief Education Officer Responsible for Planning compared the cost of maintenance of the Mon Repos Combined School to that of a house, stating that “the older our schools are, the cost of maintenance increases. “If you think of your home, for example, when your home was newly built over the first couple of years there was low maintenance but as time passes by…you realise that the maintenance cost gets more and more expensive.”
The fact that the Mon Repos Combined Primary School, is by far the older of the two schools, meant that the annual maintenance cost of that school, far exceeded that of Patience Combined.
Khodra also spoke about the dwindling school populations of both schools as a factor in the proposed merger. These figures are backed up by the Education Digest for 2017. Per this report, the respective school enrollment numbers for Mon Repos and Patience Combined Schools, read like this: 165 and 123. Numbers both expected to drop even further in the coming years.
Not Sufficient Reason
Neither parents of the Mon Repos School, nor of the Patience School, are convinced by the reasons provided by the Ministry for this proposed merger.
The Mon Repos Combined Primary School parent, when talking about the school population decline accompanying increasing school costs said; “There’s no way, that if there’s a decline by fifty percent in the population of a school, that the cost of the school keeps going up.”
Wishing to maintain anonymity, he went on to blame what he called the mismanagement of the schools for the need for a merger, rather than the declining school numbers, stating: “The problem is the management of the schools. That’s where the government has failed. Now because they have failed in that regard, now (that) they have way overspent and they have…killed themselves…now they want to amend the problem. But they’re going about amending the problem the wrong way. You don’t amend the problem by closing schools.”
A member of the PTA of the Patience Combined School, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that declining school numbers and maintenance costs are not sufficient reasons for merging the two schools, stating: “We believe that these cannot be the only two guiding factors for merger…” and that the Patience Combined School, would not be ready to accommodate students of the Mon Repos Combined School, by September.
“What we are also very much concerned about is that the period of time in which this proposed merger is expected to happen. We’re saying if this is going to come through by September, the Patience Combined School is not yet ready both structurally and otherwise to receive the students of the Mon Repos Combined School.
Patience Combined Needs Rehabilitation Too
The parents of the Patience Combined School felt that the school’s very own infrastructural problems were overlooked when this merger was being considered. This reporter was given a tour of the school by another member of the PTA who had raised many concerns to the Ministry Officials present, about the merger.
Also wishing to remain anonymous, he showed the many problems with the school’s infrastructure, with ceilings collapsing, broken guard rails and guttering, a graveled playground which is not safe for playing children, one functioning entrance/exit at the school, the boys’ toilet in a deplorable condition, among other issues.
Those issues were spoken about in some detail by the first referenced PTA member who said: “Reports from the Fire Service…have highlighted some of the problems of the Patience Combined School; from the electrical problems, to the plumbing problems, to the lack of emergency equipment on the compound. If you will increase the population here, these things must be considered.”
He also stated about the entrance and exits at the school that “the school presently only has one entrance and exit, despite the presence of a gate to the top and a gate to the back because none of them are accessible, so that is of severe concern to us.”
The PTA of Patience Combined said that it intends to release a statement documenting in full detail the structural problems currently plaguing the school and the reasons it is not ready to merge with Mon Repos by September of this year.
However, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the aforementioned Ministry did make it clear that the proposed September merger is not written in stone and may not take place if it isn’t deemed feasible, based on the contributions of the various stakeholders.