The Eastern Cape education department says budgetary constraints are among the reasons it has failed to pay teacher salaries at 90 schools.
But its argument is untenable “in law and in fact” and it has never produced evidence to prove this, its adversary in current court action, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), argues.
The 90 schools are participants in a class action over the deep-rooted and enduring problem of vacant and unpaid teacher posts in the province.
The suit the LRC has brought against the department was, at the time of writing, due to heard on Thursday, December 11.
The department refuses to pay the salaries it owes because “no provision has been made for [them] in this financial year”, its answering affidavit says.
“The department of education receives 46.13% of the provincial budget and to seek more will collapse the provincial revenue fund.”
But Sarah Sephton, regional director of the LRC, said, in her replying affidavit on behalf of the 90 schools, the department’s excuse was “untenable … both at the level of law and fact”.
These are teacher posts “the department has itself identified and budgeted for” in the annual post-provisioning process, when the department publishes a list of teacher posts it commits to paying for.
The case originates from a preceding one in March, when 32 schools the LRC represented asked the court to certify an opt-in class action on behalf of all schools in the province that, in desperation, hired and paid the teachers when the department failed to do so (“Human rights group sues state over teacher salaries”, Mail & Guardian, January 16 2014).
Over the following four months, 90 schools joined the class action, demanding they be paid back the more than R81-million in salaries that they themselves had paid to 235 teachers since 2011.
The department says in its current papers that the budget it had allocated for teacher salaries for this financial year was more than R18-billion and, as of March this year, there was a projected over-expenditure on salaries of about R650-million.
It says it was able to consider paying back only about R11-million of the R81-million owed to schools.
But Sephton’s affidavit on behalf of the schools argues that the department and the other respondents, including Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, “do not put up any budgetary documentation at all to support their claims”.
“The sums in this case add less than 15% to this existing over-expenditure figure; and amount to only 0.53% of the total budget for the department to pay [teachers].
“The department does not explain, at all … why it can agree to additional expenditure in respect of these schools of R11.851-million but no more.”
The problem has resulted in wealthier schools sacrificing some responsibilities such as infrastructure maintenance, and in poor schools pupils sit in classrooms without teachers because parents are unable to come up with the money to pay their salaries.
Brendan Grant, the principal of Queen’s College in Queenstown, told the M&G: “We are a school that backs ourselves to achieve, and paying teacher salaries that should have been paid by the department just places a huge financial burden on our parents.”
He said the school increased fees to pay the salaries of six teachers whom the department should have paid, and was now owed about R5-million. “It’s tough. This is not an industrialised area and people battle.”
Former Model C schools, such as Grant’s, are supported by parents who are “hanging in there … but I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a school in a rural, poor community … It must be very, very tough.”
The education department had not responded to the M&G’s queries at the time of going to print.“We are a school that backs ourselves up to achieve, and paying teacher salaries that should have been paid by the department just places a huge financial burden on our parents”