Bursar appeal

JTA, principals' association say primary school head teachers being bogged down with accounting duties

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 23, 2019

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The teachers' union and the principals' lobby association say the island's just over 700 public primary schools are in urgent need of bursars as principals are being bogged down with accounting tasks, in addition to administrative and teaching duties.

Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Owen Speid told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that in some instances principals have been dragged before the courts to answer questions related to their 'bursar' duties.

“It is very time-consuming... [principals] have to be doing the accounting, the filing of returns, and lately we are hearing that principals are being called before the courts for not filing returns, statutory deductions and those things, and sometimes it's not really the fault of the principal, but other departments and so on who have not handed over [information] in time,” Speid said.

The Observer was unable to confirm with the education ministry whether cases of this nature have been brought before the courts.

Speid pointed out that the functions of a bursar are specialist in nature and require particular knowledge and expertise.

“The ordinary principal does not understand some of these things — certain accounting principles — so they sometimes run themselves into problems and people may believe they are misappropriating funds when the truth is, it's just a matter of ignorance on their part or not being equipped,” he said.

“Principals cannot do accounts and all of these things during regular working hours, which means they will have to do these things in extra time, and they're not getting paid for overtime. It's really unfair to school leaders to be assuming this role of bursar, and I believe the time has come where the ministry must now look at giving bursars to primary schools,” he argued.

Interim chair of the National Primary Schools Principals' Association Violet Thomas-Thompson shared a similar concern. “They do the bursar work, along with everything else,” she said, adding that not all primary schools have secretaries as they must have a certain number of students in order to benefit from the services of a secretary.

“If your enrolment is not at a certain level there are some things that your school is not [entitled] to. So the principal is the one who has to do everything, plus teach,” she said.

Thomas-Thompson said sometimes principals struggle to meet deadlines, but acknowledged that the principals do receive some guidance from the education ministry as to how to execute accounting procedures.

“They do have training from time to time, so you're brought up to speed with your requirements and how to do most of the things you are required to do as it relates to the financial aspect of the running of the school. However, I don't think it is done to the extent where if you're coming into a primary school and you have little or no knowledge of accounts, a one-day training cannot fix that,” she explained.

A further challenge is presented by the fact that while some principals have their own knowledge of accounting practices, government policy and procedures differ.

“They require you to do your accounts their way, which is somewhat different. Theirs is done a particular way and you have to follow it,” Thomas-Thompson emphasised.

In the meantime, Speid said the JTA's 55th annual conference, which was held in Montego Bay, St James, concluded with some satisfactory outcomes, among them positive responses from portfolio minister Karl Samuda to some of the proposals that were put on the table at the sessions.

“The minister came and provided some answers as well as agreed to some of the recommendations and we have promises, for example, to install water tanks in schools. I think we got some positives out of the conference. We expect that they will live up to the promises,” he said.


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