Head of Saba’s school board resigns amid ongoing financial trouble at primary school

The head of Saba’s com­bined school board has resigned as financial troubles at the is­land’s only primary school con­tinue. The Dutch government has stepped in to “closely monitor the financial situation” at Sacred Heart School (SHS) in 2024, ac­cording to a press release issued on Sunday night.

The resignation of Anton Hermans, Executive Director of Foundation for Catholic Educa­tion Saba SKOS and Saba Edu­cational Foundation (SEF), comes about a month after news broke that 11 SHS and Saba Comprehensive School (SCS) staff members were laid off be­cause of the financial con­straints.

The lay-offs occurred sev­eral weeks before Christ­mas and were criticised at the time by Island Council Members Rolando Wilson, Elsa Peterson and Vito Charles. The three elected officials said they had a meeting with SKOS and SEF last August and the two boards gave “no signals of the financial challenges.”

However, Hermans says his resignation is “due to a career change in alignment with personal goals.”

Although the press release issued by SKOS and SEF on Sunday night claims that the financial challenges were “resolved,” the statement’s details do not give an indica­tion that they are yet.

For example, it states that the Dutch Ministry of Edu­cation, Culture and Science OCW and the Netherlands’ study financing implemen­tation agency DUO will “closely monitor the fi­nancial situation at SHS in 2024.”

This higher supervision is part of an agreement be­tween OCW and DUO and the local school board, which also involves “an ad­vance payment for the year 2024, which will be utilised to ensure salaries can be paid as well as to rebuild the school’s reserves,” it was stated in the press release.

Despite this advance pay­ment, the release also re­ported that an undisclosed number of staff contracts will not be renewed after July to “ensure long-term financial stability and main­tain a healthy fiscal opera­tion at both schools.”

Additionally, Hermans’ old position will not be filled “taking into consideration the financial challenges,” ac­cording to the press release. On Sunday afternoon, SHS posted on its Facebook page that its free breakfast and lunch programme would be “temporarily unavailable” as of today, Monday. The post said the school aimed to “re­sume these services after the summer break.”

SHS changed direction a couple hours later, editing its Facebook post to say that the school will continue a breakfast programme, but only for pupils in need. This came about an hour after The Daily Herald reached out to SCS Principal Jessica Besselink, who confirmed that the secondary school’s meal programme would not be halted.

In the press release on Sun­day night, SKOS and SEF placed the blame for the scaling back of SHS’ break­fast and lunch programme on the Saba government.

“SKOS/SEF is actively awaiting the update from the public entity Saba re­garding the allocated funds for these initiatives. The lack of precise information on the available funds has led to a temporary post­ponement of the breakfast item at the primary school,” according to the press re­lease. “We recognise the im­portance of nourishing our students with a healthy meal and remain hopeful that the public entity Saba will in­form us as soon as possible of the exact amount for the schools so we can resume and enhance these essential programmes.”

In October 2022, Dutch Minister of Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten granted a special subsidy to the Saba government to pro­vide school meals. The programme was offered to both schools, and the Saba Executive Council approved a proposal in January 2023 to make a payment to the schools towards their break­fast programme.

The Saba government has yet to comment on the status of this subsidy in 2024.

The schools’ money prob­lems were first mentioned in a joint statement by SKOS and SEF at the end of No­vember 2023.

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

Merger postponed

SKOS and SEF are offi­cially two separate entities although they function as a collective body. Their merg­er was slated for January 1, but this has now been post­poned, according to SKOS’ and SEF’s press release on Sunday night.

“The school boards of SKOS and SEF have en­countered challenges in aligning their visions with the Diocese of Willemstad’s requirements and change in their direction, lead­ing to the decision to delay the merger until a consen­sus can be reached,” it was stated. “Both school boards remain committed to foster­ing a positive resolution and will continue their efforts to overcome the current ob­stacles.”

The Daily Herald.

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