As schools open for third term, many parents are in for a rude shock following the decision by some institutions to increase fees to cover high cost of living and growing debts.
In most schools, fees has been increased by between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000, a move ratified during Annual General Meetings.
Salome Wahome, a parent in Nyeri, said boards of schools reached the decision owing to the increased cost of living.
Ms Wahome said schools adjusted their budgets based on the prices of commodities.
The cost of water and electricity ballooned, forcing some schools to install solar panels, among other cost-cutting measures.
Heads interviewed said they had to devise ways to retain students in school by seeking support from parents. “This year has been the worst with rising inflation and delayed remittance of capitation from the government,” said a head who declined to be named.
At Kangubiri Girls, an extra County school in Nyeri County, the management said it relies on goodwill from suppliers and creditors to operate the school.
The school bursar, Patrick Kimaru, revealed that harsh economic times forced parents to pay in instalments. “The biggest challenge is the accumulated debt like we have never seen before,” Kimaru noted.
He said though school fees had remained Sh7,669 as directed by the government, they are struggling financially.
“You cannot go beyond the government regulation policy on school fees,” the school bursar indicated. "There is no money in the school, we are managing the little we have," Kimaru said.
He observed that the school substitutes buying vegetables by planting its own within the school farm to cut costs. They harvest up to four times a year.
He, however, noted that even farming requires money for fertiliser, among other farm inputs. Kimaru said last term the school planted beans but despite the produce being good, it did not reduce their budget much. He declined to disclose the exact figure.
At Chinga Boys High School, the fees was increased by Sh10,000 during an annual general meeting. The school principal, M'Rachi Kirimi, told parents the school's budget had increased drastically during the year due to high cost of living.
"What we had budgeted for this year ballooned by up to Sh9 million, and parents must cover this cost through fees," he said.
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He noted that the high cost of living had pushed the school into debt that must be cleared before the end of the year. "We therefore propose that each student contributes an additional Sh7,500 in the third term and an additional Sh2,500," he said.
According to the fee structure, parents who were supposed to only pay Sh8,000 for third term, will now pay Sh18,000.
"We must pay our suppliers, and since the government funds do not factor in inflation, it must be paid by parents," Kirimi said.
Parents who voiced their concerns about the increase were brushed off and asked to plead their case individually.
"If you feel the fees is too high, come to my office, and we can arrange a payment plan, but as long as we have debts to our suppliers, the increase is non-negotiable," he said.
In Migori County, a parent who has a daughter in Form Three at Kadika Girls said school fees had been increased through PTA. According to the parent who also has a Form Four child at Kapsabet Boys, the fee is too high, given that she has no one else to depend on.
“I am a widow, and the fee increment hurts me so much. I cannot complain even if I want to. It’s so hard on me,” the parent who sought anonymity said.
According to her, the fee at the two schools is increased every term, where they are asked to pay Sh3,000 or Sh4,000. She said Kapsabet Boys increased their fees with Sh2,000 beginning the second term.
“This is not included in the copy of the fee structure sent to the parents," she said.
Kadika Girls Principal Roselyne Ochieng said parents had been asked to pay Sh7,000 to cater for the construction of dormitories. “This is split across the three academic terms.”
Kisumu Boys High School is yet to increase school fees this year. The principal, Duncan Owiye, said it was agreed among parents and teachers during the last PTA meeting that the discussions would be revisited at the end of the term.
"We agreed at our last teachers and parents' meeting that any discussions regarding fee increment shall be discussed at the end of the year,” said Owiye.
Most parents in Western are grappling with huge fee balances as schools reopen for the third term. A section of those interviewed confirmed that they had not paid first and second-term fees in full.
Manson Omwocha, a parent from Lugari constituency, said he has been forced to pay Sh10,000 on top of what he was paying earlier in school fees.
“I used to pay Sh35,700 for my daughters at Bishop Njenga Girls, but the amount has risen to Sh45,000 per academic year,” said Omwocha. He added: “I urge the government to increase capitation to schools so that parents can pay less in terms of fees.”
Omwocha said he had spent over Sh4,500 on purchasing books for her daughters.
Some opted to pay whatever little they had through bank agents located in various towns.
“We hope the principals will give us time to pay the fee balances and let our children in school,” said Francis Chavanji, who hails from Majengo.
A cross-section of parents in Taita-Taveta County and Kilifi counties complained that school managers had imposed extra levies like scrap metal and project funds without their authority.
Protesting parents claimed school management was implementing their fee structures and not the ones released by the government.
Reverend Granville Mwashako, a parent at St Mary's Boys High School Lushangonyi and Mwasere Girls, said the management had imposed controversial levies without public participation.
He said he had cleared all the fee balances for his two children last term, only for the schools to impose some levies on parents.
At St Mary’s, the parents said he had paid Sh60,000 fees for the whole year but was shocked to learn that an additional Sh11,000 had been imposed this term.
Parents are paying over Sh70,000 fee annually, which is still unaffordable to many due to skyrocketing food prices and high cost of living.
“When I inquired about the extra fees, the school principal referred me to the accounts clerk, who did not give me a conclusive answer to my concerns,” Rev Mwashako said.
[Reporting by Boniface Gikandi, Purity Mwangi, Anne Atieno, Sharon Owino, Benard Lusigi, Brian Kisanji, Renson Mnyamwezi and Marion Kithi]