At least 11 school staff in Saba laid off just before Christmas

~ Island council members question Executive Council ~

With Christmas just weeks away, well-placed sources report that at least eleven staff members of Sacred Heart School (SHS) and Saba Comprehensive School (SCS) have been laid off because of the schools’ financial constraints.

Saban parents and three members of the Island Council have criticised the lay-offs.

The schools’ money problems were first mentioned in a joint statement by Foundation for Catholic Education Saba SKOS and Saba Educational Foundation (SEF) on November 30.

“Regrettably, unforeseen financial difficulties have emerged, necessitating a re-evaluation of staffing needs and expenditure. This challenge primarily stems from the higher-than-expected cost associated with the new primary school building, the number of staff members employed, higher operation cost, as well as less income projected for 2024,” the joint statement read.

The statement also mentioned an evaluation of both schools by the Dutch Inspectorate for Education in November. The inspectors indicated a need for improvement, mainly at SHS, the island’s only primary school.

SCS Principal Jessica Besselink confirmed to The Daily Herald on Monday that two of the school’s teachers were let go. These two were being shared with SHS. Besselink said another teacher had been due to start in January but this person had to be told that they would no longer be hired.

Besselink did not confirm or deny whether SCS was in financial trouble, or whether those constraints were only linked to SHS.

Among the laid off are a Dutch teacher and an English as a second language (ESL) teacher, which has drawn criticism from parents of bilingual students who worry their children will fall behind.

Another terminated staff member told this newspaper that SKOS/SEF Executive Director Anton Hermans had verbally assured them that their contract would be renewed in January. Instead, the person received a written notice on November 30 that their contract would end in December.

Some laid off staff were also enrolled in distance-learning university courses and had signed agreements that their work-day would end at 12:30pm to facilitate their education. These persons may have to drop out of their classes if they cannot find a new employer who is willing to take on their limited schedule.

This newspaper reached out to a SEF board member for comment on Monday, but this person said Hermans is the spokesperson.

Hermans said he will only comment on the situation after the Christmas break.

Commissioner of Education Eviton Heyliger said the Executive Council will continue to monitor the situation and will look to address it with the Dutch Inspectorate for Education and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Questions to Executive Council

Island Council members Rolando Wilson, Elsa Peterson, and Vito Charles said they had been shocked to read the schools boards’ joint statement on November 30.

The three island council members of the governing Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM) said they had met with SKOS and SEF on August 31, and the two boards gave “no signals of the financial challenges.”

“Accountability is important in every institution, and we believe that it is necessary to understand the circumstances that may have played a role in creating this undesirable situation and what all stakeholders can do to minimise such a reoccurrence in the future,” the island council members said.

The schools’ financial constraints have pushed Wilson, Peterson, and Charles to submit a list of questions to Saba’s Executive Council.

The Executive Council has a maximum of 30 days to answer.

“The questions are an initial step and we have not excluded the use of other tools at the disposal of the [Island – Ed.] Council to bring about transparency in this issue,” they said. “While we understand that the public entity has minimal involvement in the operations of the schools, we believe that the financial (in)stability of the schools has significant implications for the quality of education that is provided to our students on island.”

Among their questions, the three island council members asked whether the Dutch Inspectorate for Education had been aware of the schools’ financial situation during its last visit, and whether the schools’ finances are audited. They also wanted to know about SHS’ and SCS’ budgets and whether the Executive Council supports the schools’ two-tier governance structure.

Wilson, Peterson and Charles also asked whether the Executive Council discusses financial matters with Hermans, SKOS and SEF, and questioned the mechanisms in place to address financial issues in a timely manner.

“Is the Executive Council aware of the number of staff laid off? Also, is the Executive Council aware of whether more lay-offs are possible? Is the Executive Council supporting staff that have been laid off? If so, how?” they asked. “Considering these terminations, how does the Executive Council plan to ensure the continuity and quality of education for students on the island? Does the Executive Council have a position on what is necessary to improve financial oversight at the schools? If so, can the Executive Council provide insight into this?”

The Daily Herald.

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