Principal begs for $10m gov’t loan to keep school open
The principal of a private school in Manchester is seeking to borrow $10 million from the Government to restructure her school and keep it afloat as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
In the interim, Sharon Denny-Tomlinson, founder and principal of Charagape Childcare, Kindergarten and Elementary School in Mandeville, has had to seek part-time employment in St Elizabeth to try to make ends meet.
In what has been described as a turbulent year for private schools, Denny-Tomlinson told The Gleaner that since the onset of the coronavirus, enrolment at the 24-year-old institution has fallen dramatically to less than a quarter of pre-COVID figures, moving from 305 to just 73.
The bills are piling up.
“I have a monthly rent, monthly mortgage, I used to have 24 members of staff when COVID hit [and] two properties with utilities, maintenance, security monitoring system,” she said, painting a picture of mounting expenses.
“Because of my benevolent spirit and parents owing me, I ended up with a tax backlog,” she added.
Charagape’s cash crisis has driven Denny-Tomlinson to write directly to the Ministry of Finance for a $10-million loan. She is yet to get a reply, she said.
The request is fair
Denny-Tomlinson believes the request is fair based on the contribution her school and other private institutions make to the education sector.
“We give a service to the country of Jamaica as private schools. I give a damn good service!” she exclaimed.
“For somebody who runs a school, who closed off with 305 students, and I am charging minimal fees – way lower than the other top private schools – it means that I was doing very good business.”
Denny-Tomlinson is not alone in her lament.
Hers is a refrain in tune with the appeal from the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA), which represents 150 of the estimated 600 private schools in the country.
JISA President Dr Faithlyn Wilson wants the Government to give additional support to private schools, including paying a long-promised financial grant of J$40,000 per private schoolteacher and J$10,000 for each support staffer. She also wants private-school staff added to the priority list for COVID-19 vaccination.
Jamaica’s vaccination roll-out, which began last Wednesday, has been cast as the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Denny-Tomlinson has had to bite the bullet and seek alternative income just to survive.
“With COVID, it’s difficult. Every private school has its setbacks. We are not allowed to have students in school other than grade six,” she said, referring to the February 28 order by the prime minister that private schools only allow in-person classes for students sitting external exams. Those cohorts are grades six, 11, 12 and 13.
While supporting the COVID-19-containment protocols, Denny-Tomlinson suggested that permission be given to schools to facilitate between 20 and 50 students per day.
With most students out of school, institutions are deprived of earning additional income from the sale of meals and other items, and fees for clubs and extracurricular activities.