THA Secretary of Education, Research and Technology Zorisha Hackett has revealed her division intends to initiate an audit of the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation High School and the other two denominational schools in Tobago – Bishop’s High School and Harmon School of the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA).
Last week Thursday – a day after the re-opening of the school term – the Light and Life Foundation issued an advisory, saying the school would be closed indefinitely. It said 23 of the 27 teachers had left the school’s premises, citing health and safety concerns.
Three days later, the school’s board reversed its decision, saying in another advisory the school would be reopened on April 25.
“Work was expedited over the weekend and will be ongoing over the next two weeks to fulfil the commitments made to address the teachers’ concerns which promoted their decision to close,” the board said in its advisory.
The board of management, chaired by Pastor Glenroy Frank, has criticised the division’s handling of infrastructural issues at the school. The board has queried why school repairs were not addressed prior to Easter.
In a video posted online, Frank said the absence of teachers at the schools caused fights to break out and the situation became unmanageable. He claimed two denominational boards reached out in support of their decision to close the school.
He said the closure of the school “seemed to have triggered the anger” of officials in the division who felt it was done to embarrass them politically. He said there was also contention whether the board had the authority to close the school.
Frank said challenges with the division were not new but this was the first time “the response from the division, via the secretary, would have gone to social media.”
He added that Hackett needs to be taught “the principles of leadership.”
But speaking at the post Executive Council news conference on Wednesday, a peeved Hackett said the school has been receiving disbursements consistently from the division since 2018 to fulfil certain requirements.
For example, she said during the first term of 2019-2020, the school received a disbursement of $635,940.50.
Hackett added it also received $637,071.50 during the second term at the start of the pandemic and $635,940 in the third term.
“In that same year an additional payment was made as a back payment for a previously missed period of $550,820.50,” she said.
Hackett said the school also benefited from disbursements from 2021 to the first quarter of 2022.
“So, for the year, the Pentecostal Light and Life High School has received in the first term $635,940 and in the second term $637,071.50.”
She said the division has been assisting the school financially over the years.
“Now it seems to demonstrate that the Division of Education, Research and Technology has gone above board in its support of the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation High School, just as we have supported the other two denominational schools on the island – Bishops High School and the Harmon School of the SDA.”
Hackett said the grants are supposed to assist with practical subjects, sports, maintenance of grounds and refund for payments on utilities.
“So, what this brings to the fore is the Division of Education, Research and Technology’s need to conduct some auditing. And I am going to say that in no uncertain terms that we need to take some auditing on these denominational schools.”
She added, “Unfortunately, for me and my colleague (assistant secretary Orlando Kerr) we came into a division where we met this as the modus operandi in terms of the payments to the schools and so, in good faith, we would have continued with that.
“However, in moving forward and based on the recent developments and all of that back and forth we had in the last few weeks, leading up to the reopening of schools and, of course, what happened last Friday, we cannot continue along this vein.
“And so the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation High School, just as our other two denominational high schools will have to be audited.”
Hackett said a general audit of the THA is taking place currently “and we are going to add these denominational schools to the fray.”
Saying the issue is being used as a “political football,” Hackett said as secretary she must represent the interests of every Tobagonian, regardless of creed, race and religion.
“So, when I took my oath of office on December 10, 2021, it was done so without fear or favour, contradiction or judgement… I am charged with that responsibility of leading this division in a very honest, transparent and accountable way.”
Hackett also said the division has called for meetings with the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation in the past “which did not occur, unfortunately.
“And so, to see all this back and forth being spewed in the public space, it is a sad day.
“The division’s sole purpose is to treat with the education of the island’s children and so nothing should come in that path.”
She said the division has again invited the school’s board of management to a meeting on May 3, “for us to recommit to establishing our support from the division and to leading the way forward on the continued relationship in the best interest of our island’s children.
“The board was furnished with such an invitation and we look forward to ironing out these kinks and straightening out all we need to all in an effort of ensuring we maintain cordial relationships to the benefit of Tobago.”