Public schools are facing desperate times following government delays in releasing funds to run their operations.
According to a number of school principals interviewed by The Standard, some schools have been unable to pay non-teaching staff and teachers hired by boards of management as the coronavirus crisis deepens.
Others have resorted to frantic measures such as selling part of their assets to cater for their expenses.
Some schools have also been forced to do away with income-generating projects like livestock and poultry rearing to pay board-hired teachers.
Fredrick Mbuthi, who leads the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads of Association in Nakuru County, said the situation has also put at risk property worth millions after security firms manning the learning institutions pulled out due to lack of pay.
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“We have equipment in our laboratories, text books and other school infrastructure worthy millions of shillings they cannot be left unguarded,” Mr Mbuthi said.
On Thursday, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha told the National Assembly Education committee that he had sought Treasury approval to have the money disbursed to schools.
However, conversations with some principals indicated that the money is yet to reflect in the school accounts, even as suppliers demand payment.
“The board is awaiting remittances to pay our employees as promised by the Government,” said Joram Mwaniki, the principal of Ngunguru Secondary School in Nyeri county.
Anthony Thuo, a principal in Mwingi county also complained: “We are still waiting for funds. Right now school management is in problems. We are looking for resources from other quarters to maintain our employees.”
If, and when the money hits the school accounts, school heads will be rushing to clear pending bills arising from the delays.
Although schools have a private arrangement with board teachers and non-teaching staff, Covid-19 has forced them to cry out for government help.
In Nyanza, the threat of auctioneers looms large with revelations that some schools had accumulated debts for as long as five months, with some having to play cat and mouse with debtors.
In Maseno National School in Kisumu County, Principal Andrew Buop said operations have halted due to lack of money.
“By Thursday evening, the money was yet to reflect in our accounts,” Mr Buop said.
“We are currently surviving on goodwill and pledges, hoping that the Government will act soon.”
He stressed that he has not been able to pay bills such as those for security and power.
“It is important to note that when the schools are closed, only tuition money is not recorded as an expense. The other operations go on as usual, and if there is no money we are in a bad position,” he added.
The same situation was reported at Achego Girls High School in the same county, where principal Rebecca Chawiya said the school is operating on donations.
“We keep talking to the service providers. We let them understand the prevailing situation. We have always been faithful clients, and some of them do understand. However the situation is worsening and we do not know what we would do if the service providers pulled out,” Ms Chawiya said.
In Siaya, Rangala Boys High School is also affected. Principal John Sewe said the contracted security service provider has been threatening to withdraw his services.
The school has not paid its 12 teachers hired by the board. Also 20 non-teaching staff have not been paid for two months now; power bills have not been settled for the last three months.
“We are in arrears, and just hopping for the best,” Mr Sewe said. At Majengo Secondary School in Bondo Sub-county, the principal Thomas Obura said the school accounts have ran dry.
“We managed to pay our staff up to April using the little that was in the account. From then, we’ve not been able to pay the board teachers,” said Mr Obura.
He added that the administration has been forced to scale down the number of watchmen guarding the school from five to two.
Payment in kind
He further explained that they administration paying its subordinate stuff in kind; offering them food in the stores. The schools electricity bill has hit Sh50,000.
“The the electricity will soon be disconnected,” he said.
Ramba High School in Rarieda Sub-county has been lucky to pay its non-teaching staff every dime owned to them this far, but the principal James Okoyo looks towards a bleak future.
“We have been lucky enough to pay our staff up to this month but from August, it will not be easy for us because we’ve exhausted all the savings in our accounts,” said Mr Okoyo.
He noted that most of the schools in the area that are not able to pay their watchmen now remain unguarded.
At Nyabururu Girls School the script is not different. More than 65 non-teaching staff have not had their pay for months.
School Principal Joyce Orioki said only 16 staff offering essential services have been retained at the institution since March.
“They too have not been paid and we hope the Government will look into this matter with the urgency it deserves. The board made a decision, though a painful one, to send them home on unpaid leave,” said Ms Orioki.
“We have equipment in our laboratories, textbooks and other school infrastructure in our schools worth a great deal. They need 24-hour security. They cannot remain unguarded.”
At Kereri Girls School, Principal Terresa Atino paid her 79 subordinate staff and board teachers up to June. “We went deep into our savings and gave them some money before we released them on unpaid leave,” Ms Atino said.
“Things have been tough in virtually all schools. A number of them are struggling to pay debts and clear salary arrears.”
In Kisii, Nyamache Secondary Principal Peter Lunani said he has not been able to pay salaries for both subordinate staff and board teachers - at least 30 individuals.
“These could be 30 families not able to acquire basic needs because they do not have an income at all. My wish is to have to the Ministry release funds to schools to enable us pay all the salary arrears,” Mr Lunani said.
In Mt Kenya region, schools have been forced to fall back to their farms and to hire out their halls to raise funds to pay workers.
Technology Primary School in Murang’a town for example said it was paying its non-teaching staff from proceeds of hiring out its halls for various events.
Head teacher Beatrice Wachira said the hall generates income that has helped to reduce the cost of maintaining the support staff and school infrastructure.
“We are spending what we had saved from the proceeds from the hall that we rent,” said Ms Wachira.
In Kiirua High School, Meru County, the principal James Ngugi said having ran out of government money, the school is using resources from its expansive farm to settle its expenses.
On the farm, it grows maize, wheat and rears livestock (sheep, goat and dairy cattle). The returns from the farm are used to pay its lean non-teaching staff.
Kiirua High School has sent home all its board-hired teachers and most subordinate staff. Only workers offering essential services such as watchmen have remained.
[Wainaina Ndung’u, Boniface Gikandi, Lydia Nyawira, Anthony Gitonga, Harold Odhiambo, Kevine Omollo, Eric Abuga and Isaiah Gwengi]