The education department has until the end of September to pay temporary teachers and to fill vacant posts in public schools. This was agreed in an out-of-court settlement this week by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekgas legal team with a coalition of education activists and parents represented by a team from the Grahamstown Legal Resource Centre.
The hearing had been postponed from 12 July to allow the department to gather more facts. In wording that caused wide outrage, Motshekgas team argued that the matter was "not urgent".
The school governing bodies and the Centre for Child Law, in a strongly worded submission, argued this week that the departments dragging their feet on payment of teachers, the filling of vacant posts and was abusing childrens rights to education, dignity and security.
Wednesdays agreement focused on the implementation of the 2012 and 2013 educator post-establishment policy and the payment of temporary teachers. While a court order is still to be made in this regard, the agreement means temporary teachers - some of whom have gone without salaries since January - will receive backpay within a month of the order being issued.
The schools that paid teachers directly will be reimbursed, provided they supply proof of payment. Still in dispute between the parties yesterday were the details of non-teaching staff appointments for 2013.
The education department argued that there was a moratorium on hiring non-teaching staff due to a policy implemented in 1996. While non-teaching staff were hired after 1996, the department later implemented the moratorium.
The coalition said the moratorium should be lifted as it interferes with childrens constitutional right to education. Presiding Judge Clive Plaskett questioned the validity of the moratorium if a decision to employ a specific number of non-teaching staff had been made and had been budgeted for.
He also questioned how the moratorium could remain in place year after year while there was a budget for those posts. The coalitions legal representative Steven Budlender described the moratorium on the hiring of non-teaching staff in public schools in the Eastern Cape as entirely inflexible.
He said it prevented the department from considering the specific needs of individual schools. These ranged from special needs schools such as Cape Recife to schools that needed hostel staff. Budlender said in the case of local high school Mary Waters, which had a dire shortage of teachers, there was also a critical shortage of non-teaching staff.
"The school is a non-fee paying school which means parents cannot afford to pay school fees. How are they expected to pay for non-teaching staff? It has been 10 years since the school had a receptionist and educators end up doing administration work," he said.
Mary Waters High School had 1 087 pupils, Budlender said, but only one cleaner and one security guard. "Failure to appoint non-teaching staff was trampling on the childrens right to education, dignity and security," he said.
Chairperson of the school governing body at Mary Waters Errol Goliath said there were three teachers who received a stipend from the SGB, as they had not been paid by the education department since January.
"It is difficult for us as parents because we dont have the money. But those teachers are trying their level best and [make] sacrifice[s] so that the children can get an education. We hope this court case can be finalised [soon] because it is not fair to the children," he said.
Plaskett reserved judgment on the question of the hiring of non-teaching staff. Director of the Legal Resource Centre Sarah Sephton said: "We are extremely happy that they have agreed to the order, but at the same time we are disappointed that we had to come to court to force the department to do this. The post-provisioning is something that is supposed to happen on an annual basis, but it was never implemented fully for about 10 years now."
Sephton said in an interview with Grocotts Mail earlier this year during a break in the hearing that there were 64 000 posts for teachers in the Eastern Cape. These had not been filled because some of the schools had excess teachers who resisted being allocated to other schools.
The department had thus hired temporary teachers at those schools. This problem had left the department with redundant teachers on their payroll.