Government insists there is no shortage of basic resources like paper, printer toner and pencils in public schools.
Christen Suckoo, chief officer in the Ministry of Education, said there are sufficient supplies for all schools and he was not sure why teachers and parents were reporting a shortage.
“That is something that we are looking into, but there is no reason for that to be the case. We have the resources to fund paper and toner and those kind of things.”
Minutes from a national parent forum held earlier this year indicate the “recurring issue” of a lack of paper was highlighted as cause for concern by some PTA representatives. Several public school teachers have also reported issues with lack of paper and printer toner, saying they frequently provide their own.
Education officials have previously suggested schools have not followed the proper procedures for requesting paper ahead of time, resulting in temporary shortages.
Mr. Suckoo said he was looking into the issue, but insisted there was enough paper to go round.
Meanwhile, students returning to school this week were asked to bring an extensive list of school supplies on their first day.
Year 4 students at Bodden Town Primary School, for example, were issued a 22-point list of supplies, including 96 pencils, eight glue sticks, six whiteboard markers, six notebooks, three Post-it pads and four hand sanitizers.
Mr. Suckoo acknowledged the list seems extensive, but denied that parents were being asked to stock school cupboards. He said, “I can’t speak for that school, but we will have to ask and see if that is actually necessary.”
He said parents are expected to provide some basic items, but the ministry has the resources to keep schools well stocked with supplies.
He said many parents and local businesses want to help, and sometimes additional resources are pooled to provide for children who could not afford everything on the lists.
“Some parents want to make their contribution, so we develop a partnership where some of the resources are provided by parents.”
Mark Scotland, president of the Savannah Primary School PTA, said paper and other supply shortages had been raised as a concern during national PTA forums by other schools. But he said it was not the key issue for his school, which raised a petition to highlight a lack of resources in the summer.
He said additional teaching staff and textbooks were key concerns for parents at the growing school.
“I think the bigger issues [are] the higher level resources, the teaching staff and support staff.”
He said the 50 new posts announced last week for the public school system are a step in the right direction.
“I think that is a good start. I don’t think it is enough, but it is a step in the right direction. It is going to take a while for the posts to be filled and to see how they are distributed across the schools, but it is a good start.”
Mr. Scotland said Savannah Primary School has gone from being one of the smallest in the country to among the largest as the population of the district has grown. With that has come increasing demands on the school, and he is keen to see more resources go into the area.
“I think, longer term, those are the bigger issues we have to deal with,” he said.
Al Suckoo, an independent MLA for Bodden Town, said he had been inundated with calls from parents in the area over the summer for help with purchasing school supplies.
He said, “There [have] always been requirements for children to provide certain things, but it seems like that is growing and the amount the school is providing is getting less.”
He echoed Mr. Scotland’s concerns that the issues for primary schools in the Bodden Town area go beyond basic resources like paper and pens. He said he was happy to see a commitment to fund 50 new posts across the school system. But he suggested this was a “knee jerk” response to pressure applied by himself and other legislators in Finance Committee meetings, and he said he wanted to see a greater long-term commitment to filling resource gaps highlighted in a series of school inspection reports.
MLA Mr. Suckoo has filed a private members’ motion for the next Legislative Assembly meeting, calling for a new primary school in Bodden Town as well as additional resources for the existing schools in the area.
He said he is pressing ahead with the motion despite last week’s announcement that funding for new posts has been approved.
“I’m happy to see that has been done, but I am not willing to just withdraw the motion. I still haven’t accomplished what I set out to accomplish, which is to make it a number one priority. We may have addressed some immediate needs, but it is a knee-jerk reaction to the pressure applied. What I want to see is a strategy going forward to address the resource issues.”
Chief Officer Christen Suckoo, who is the MLA’s brother, said the pair did not let their personal relationship influence politics.
“He’s his own man,” he said. The chief officer said he was very happy to get the additional resources and confident that the new positions would go a long way toward addressing the shortcomings highlighted in inspection reports.