New Delhi: With schools closed for more than a year now due to the Covid pandemic, and classes being held virtually, education activities have taken a massive hit across the country — and it’s not the students alone who are suffering.
Private schools are particularly affected, with many finding it difficult to even pay their staff. To cut cost, some have also had to “temporarily” terminate the services of their faculty for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities such as sports and arts, besides other staff members.
The schools ThePrint spoke to blamed this fund crunch on the different directions issued by state governments to reduce fees, to ensure that students and their parents are not being charged for facilities that the schools will not be required to provide during virtual classes.
Most states have passed orders directing schools to take only the tuition fees from parents and not charge transport fees, development fees and those collected for extra-curricular activities.
However, many schools said collecting just the tuition fees too has become a challenge, especially in the second year of the pandemic.
Swoyan Satyendu, director at ODM Public School in Odisha capital Bhubaneswar, told ThePrint that the school’s bad debts have risen.
“In our case, the bad debt or in other words the default amount has exponentially increased. We have no other option than to cut all possible costs. In the second year of pandemic, we are struggling even more to collect fees from parents.”
The brunt of this, he said, is being borne by teachers “who are toiling day and night, but have not been able to get a deserving hike on even their salaries for the past two years”.
Many schools told ThePrint they have to pay not just their staff, but also for certain overhead and maintenance costs, whether the campus is in use or not.
Virtual classes have also thrown up fresh costs for some schools, with authorities having to buy laptops and pay for internet connectivity, for teachers who did not have the required infrastructure to conduct online classes.
ThePrint spoke to private schools across the country and all of them had the same thing to say — that managing finances has become excruciatingly difficult.
The only relief for the private schools has so far come from the courts.
In February this year, the Supreme Court allowed schools in Rajasthan to charge 100 per cent fees from parents for the 2020-21 academic session, equivalent to what was charged for the 2019-20 session.
Though later, on 3 May, the apex court ruled that schools can collect fees with a reduction of 15 per cent, on account of unused services, even this 85 per cent is more than just the tuition fees, which is what most private schools were being allowed to collect during the pandemic.
Following the precedent set by the SC, some high courts, such as the Delhi HC, also gave similar relief to private schools to collect more than just the tuition fees from parents.
Not all private schools across the country, however, have received similar relief.
‘Herculean task to get parents to pay fee’
“The Covid pandemic has been financially challenging for almost all private schools, since parents have not been able to make fee payments on the due dates owing to lockdowns or because of other personal reasons cited by them,” said Hina Desai, Principal, Birla Open Minds International School, Mumbai.
She added that while “the schools had to incur expenses, it was a Herculean task to convince parents to pay their dues as they wanted rebates and concessions”.
Parents demand that they should get a discount on the fees since the classes are being conducted online, and the managing authorities of most schools have taken a call to provide parents a fee structure for virtual classes, Desai said.
Needless to say, schools with moderate funds are finding it more difficult to survive.
A school principal from a medium-budget private school in Navi Mumbai, who did not wish to be named, said: “We have had to let go of our sports coaches and our arts faculty, because we simply didn’t have the funds to pay them, at a time when parents are not paying full fee.”
Alka Kapur, principal, Modern Public School, Delhi, said staff salaries are paid from the fees collected from students, and stressed that it’s important that the money is paid in time.
“The school fees must be paid on time by the parents, because it keeps the machinery running. The salaries are paid to the staff from the fees that are collected by the school. If the fees are not paid on time, it would not only demoralise the staff, but would also affect their livelihood, especially at a time when a financial crisis is looming large in the country. Therefore, I think it is very important that the parents acknowledge this issue and duly submit the fees on time,” said Kapur.
Even schools that have managed to pay salaries to their teachers so far admit that they did so with difficulty.
Vamsi Krishna, principal, Delhi Public School, Surat, told ThePrint that there have been financial difficulties for the school, but added that they have been able to manage so far. “We have been successfully able to pay full salaries to all our staff and have not had to let go of anyone so far. The Gujarat government had asked schools to only charge 25 per cent of the fees and we have been doing that,” said Krishna.
But not all schools have been lucky.
Suvarna Singh, a teacher at a private school in Delhi, said: “I have not been paid my full salary for at least four months. I don’t even know if the next month’s salary that I get will be full, or with some deductions. Now the problem is, I can’t even go to the school administration, none of us can…they will say that students are not paying fees so, how can we pay your salaries.”
During the pandemic, many people have lost jobs and there have been pay cuts across sectors. Many teachers ThePrint spoke to said while they realised parents may be facing financial difficulties too, they themselves are dependent on the fees received by the school.
A teacher from a private school in Hyderabad said: “As teachers, we understand that parents might have problems in paying fees or might not want to pay full fees because classes are being held online. But what about us teachers? We also have to run our household, have kids and families to feed… no one wants to think of our interest.”
Maintaining an empty campus
Schools, meanwhile, said they have other expenses too apart from salaries.
A senior teacher at a school in Delhi explained: “Schools have annual contracts for the maintenance of swimming pools, vehicles and sports grounds. Now just because the children aren’t coming to school, those contracts can’t be cancelled. We have to keep paying those people to maintain the school. This is an expense that is incurred irrespective of the fact that students aren’t on campus.”
Apart from this, the schools said, they have had to undertake many new expenses in the past one year owing to the Covid-induced ‘work from home’ situation. This included buying extra laptops for all faculty members, getting subscription for various web services for webinars, online assessment tools, Zoom subscription, internet connections for teachers who might not have them at home, among other things.
DPS Surat, for example, had to set up 25-30 makeshift classes in schools where teachers who did not have facilities to conduct online classes at home would come and take classes.
Courts to the rescue
Following the Supreme Court’s February order allowing schools in Rajasthan to collect more than just the tuition fees, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the month of March passed an order allowing private schools to charge full fees from parents.
The Delhi High Court too, on 31 May, passed a similar order allowing private schools to charge full annual fees from parents — the Delhi government has, however, moved court against the order.
The Delhi government had in 2020 asked schools to only charge tuition fees, but this court order will change that and schools will be able to charge annual and development fees, with a reduction of 15 per cent for services that can’t be provided online.
Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi, said: “The Delhi High Court order allowing schools to charge fees under categories other than just tuition fees is a relief to those grappling with financial issues.”
She added that though “the court has also asked to deduct 15 per cent fees for unutilised services, to give relief to parents and we will follow that. But if the court order is followed properly, things should be better by the year end”.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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