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Funds blow to Christian schools

Many state-aided primary schools run by Christian missionaries are struggling to pay their teachers as the government has suddenly suspended funds to the institutions.

The schools, some of which were set up more than a century ago, alleged that the government had not been releasing the salary grant since March. “We could not pay salaries to our teachers in April and May,” said an official of one of the schools.

Most of the 70-odd missionary-run, Bengali-medium primary schools on the grant list are not getting the money.

When Metro contacted a senior official of the school education department overseeing the allotment of grants to Christian missionary schools, he said the salary grants have not been sent to the schools following an objection from the finance department. “We can’t elaborate on the matter as it is confidential,” said the official who refused to be named.

The schools alleged that the district inspectors (DIs) of schools, who disburse the salary grants, had “verbally” informed them that the grants had been withheld because the institutions were no longer entitled to them.

The DIs are said to have told the schools that they had failed to produce any “valid” document to prove that they were minority institutions.

“The DI, though, has not sent us any letter stating the reason for the suspension or withdrawal of the grant,” said the head of a missionary-run primary school in the city that used to be aided by the government.

“We were stunned when told that the name of our school did not figure on the list of state-aided primary schools. Our institution had been set up more than 190 years ago and we have been getting the salary grant for 28 years,” said Rajendra Sarkar, the headmaster of St. Paul’s Primary School on Amherst Street.

“We have been receiving financial assistance from the state government since the 1970s. We can’t understand why our existence is being questioned after getting the grant for so many years,” said Sister Swapna Biswas, the headmistress of St. Ann’s Primary School.

Apart from St. Paul’s and St. Ann’s, St. Teresa Primary School and Collins Primary School are some of the institutions in the city affected by the sudden suspension of the grant. The affected schools in the districts include Don Bosco, Krishnagar, and St. John’s Primary School, Bandel.

A delegation of church representatives met senior officials of the school education department last week and appealed to them to look into the matter.

“More and more schools are approaching us with the complaint that the government has stopped handing out salary grants,” said Father Moloy D Costa, the general secretary of the Association of Christian Schools.

Some of these schools are in demand among middle-class Bengali parents because of the “high standard” they maintain. Many parents said they preferred these schools for their quality of English teaching.

A church source said it would be difficult to run these schools if the government permanently stopped the salary grant. “The institutions won’t be able to increase their fees as the students are mostly from middle and lower income group families,” the source said.

Most of the 70 schools had been included in the list of aided schools by the erstwhile Left government in 1983. It was during the same Left rule in 1998 that the government had stopped paying salaries to the primary section teachers of the Ramakrishna Mission schools in Rahara and Baranagar as the institutions were violating the Left Front’s “no-English policy”.

The mission, instead of bowing to the government’s pressure tactic, decided to pay the salaries from its coffers in exchange of the freedom to teach English at the primary level.