Auxilia Katongomara Chronicle Reporter
PRIVATE schools could be forced to increase fees after the government recalled thousands of teachers deployed at the institutions, arguing that they are commercial enterprises and as such must meet their own staff costs.
Over and above the pay received from the government, private and trust schools — which are also more expensive for pupils — provide a second salary to the teachers.
Now, a circular sent to the affected schools and district education offices has given teachers on the government payroll up to two weeks from February 3 to leave their posts and seek redeployment to government, Mission and council schools from the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Private school headmasters are warning of chaos, saying the directive has come in the middle of the school term and could lead to serious disruptions to learning.
One school, Petra High in Bulawayo, says 27 teachers are affected.
The government says the move, first announced by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his 2016 budget statement last November, will save some $72 million — assuming the teachers opt to secure permanent employment with the 100 affected private and trust schools instead of returning to the PSC.
The circular sent by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Permanent Secretary Sylvia Utete-Masango said the recalling of teachers was in line with the civil service audit which is underway.
“On November 17, 2015, Cabinet adopted the 2015 civil service audit report which, among other issues, recommended the withdrawal of funding of employment costs of government teachers in trust and private schools,” wrote Utete-Masango.
“You are hereby recalled for redeployment in Public Service. May you therefore acknowledge receipt of this letter and respond within 14 days. By failing to respond, you shall be deemed to have resigned from Public Service.”
Mission schools teachers have not been recalled as the circular was sent to only trust and private schools.
The Chronicle spoke to some of the affected school heads in Bulawayo who confirmed receipt of the circular dispatched last week.
Girls College head Les Ross said only four teachers were affected, but referred further questions to the chairman of the Combined Heads of Independent Schools in Zimbabwe, Robert Sibanda.
Sibanda acknowledged receipt of the circular and said they were awaiting further instructions from the provincial education directors.
“We’re awaiting the PEDs to give us a direction. Some schools haven’t communicated the message to the teachers as they feel it’s the duty of the ministry or the Public Service Commission to relay it to their teachers,” said Sibanda.
He decried the withdrawal of the teachers, saying it was likely to impact negatively on lessons and performance of pupils.
One of the worst affected schools, Petra High, reportedly has 27 teachers who have been recalled.
In an internal memo sent to the teachers, the school said the recalling of teachers was likely to disrupt lessons in the coming weeks.
“All ATS (Association of Trust Schools) in Zimbabwe have received a letter from the Public Service Commission recalling all government teachers for redeployment into the Public Service. This does have ramifications for Petra schools and we’ve met with all our teachers that are government registered and we’re in the process of finding the best way forward for all the students, teachers and Petra School,” read the circular.
The school head said the institution would advertise the teachers’ posts.
“We’ve also advised that we will, as soon as possible, publish a list of positions that will be available and government teachers who would prefer to remain at Petra will then be able to submit their applications,” read the memo.
Some of the teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were contemplating resigning from the government to continue at the private institutions.
“This is a serious inconvenience, being redeployed during the term. It should have been communicated during the holidays. We’ve families that will be affected by the move,” said one teacher at Petra.
If the private schools are to retain the same staffing levels at the same rate of pay, they could be forced to ask parents to shell out more.
Presenting the 2016 budget, Chinamasa had said the government would cease to pay teachers employed by trust schools with effect from January 1 this year — although this did not happen. This was reiterated by Public Service and Social Services Minister Prisca Mupfumira who said teachers at private and trust schools, who gobbled $72 million in 2015 in salaries and allowances, would no longer get anything from the government.
“The position is that this is an unfair charge to public funds and these institutions are run on a commercial basis and should cater for their employment costs,” she said.