Samuel: Solution being worked on for Excellence Academy pupils

Samuel: Solution being worked  on for Excellence Academy pupils

Excellence Learning Academy in Madame Estate. (File photo)

 MADAM ESTATE--“A solution is being worked on” for the predicament being faced by over two dozen special needs pupils, whose continued education is in jeopardy due to the pending closure of Excellence Learning Academy (ELA) Foundation, which is expected to fold operations month end due to serious financial constraints, after one of its main sponsors pulled out.

  Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel briefly addressed the situation during the live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. He did not divulge details of the solution being worked on.

  “In regard to the situation with the students of Excellence [Learning – Ed.] Academy, I have had discussions with the persons responsible for Excellence Learning Academy. One of the areas that I have paid much attention to from the day that I started this job is that something is done for our special needs students,” Samuel said in his opening remarks. “We have worked on the special needs policy and have done an assessment of the various types of special needs on St. Maarten. The assessment report is being completed, after which we will conclude the special needs policy. In regard to the students at Excellence Academy, I want parents and all concerned to know that a solution is being worked on,” he added.

  When asked about the non-payment of teachers, Samuel said: “First, I would like to explain that Excellence Academy is a private institution and it does not fall under the minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and does not receive any subsidy from the Ministry of ECYS. The Academy spoke to me in the past and requested information as to how they can obtain subsidy … All relevant information was given to the Academy and the ministry is awaiting the answers to the questions that were posed. That the teachers haven’t got paid, the minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport would not know that answer and that does not fall under my jurisdiction. What I have informed you and the public is that I am working on a solution, and I do care about what happens to those students and all other students. I believe special needs students are special to us and they do need our attention; and this is one of the areas I have been paying attention to from the onset, so I am doing my best to get a solution for the group.”

  ELA is in a serious financial predicament with a ballooning debt that includes an outstanding tab to Social and Health Insurances SZV, amounting to some US $61,000 in unpaid premiums. Other premiums are up to date. ELA Director Alisha Brookes had told this newspaper last week that the school had been keeping its head above water with the assistance of several sponsors and supporters, including St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF), which provided a grant that covered the salaries of at least three teachers at the school. This significant assistance, which had been provided for two years, helped keep the school buoyant. Brookes said on December 29, 2022, ELA was informed via a letter dated December 22, 2022, that SMDF, one of its key financiers, will be discontinuing its grant agreement effective immediately, due to discrepancies. “This came as a huge hit for the foundation's expenses; however, ELA understood the grounds for the decision,” Brookes had said in a written statement shared with this newspaper. “ELA has incurred debts to an amount that has become unmanageable. The school has been in constant negative financial distress, which has now led to the hampering of its daily operations, regrettably, to the effect of teachers taking action.”

  The school, she said, had to remain compliant with the payment of all its taxes, but she said this was simply not possible as the income the school received was not sufficient to cover all of its expenses.

  As a result of SMDF pulling its grant, the school was unable to cover all of its salaries in December. She said of the six staffers, two were paid their full salaries, two were paid half of their salaries and two were not paid. One staffer visited the Labor Department over the non-payment of their salary and Brookes said she was notified by the Department of the consequences of not paying.

  Brookes had also spoken about her uphill battle to get assistance from government, to no avail. She had met with various education ministers in the past and made presentations in Parliament to discuss pressing matters, such as subsidy, financial assistance, location needs and more, to no avail.

  Special education organisations, schools and facilities as such, she indicated, are in increasing demand, and having 30 students displaced will be a major challenge for the parents, the students, teachers, support staff, management team members and the educational system.

The Daily Herald

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