Guardians of students of Sri Aurobindo Institute of Education (SAIE) demonstrated before the school gate last Saturday against a fee hike and are threatening more action if their demands are not met.
About 40 guardians gathered in front of the CL Block school on Saturday holding up placards and shouting slogans against the decision. Their primary demand is the reducing of the 20 per cent fee hike this year to 10 per cent and waiver of the Rs 500 one-time health fee.
This is not the first time parents are moving against fee hike in the school. In 2018, they had gheraoed the management till 2am and police arrested seven agitators. “The school has been raising fees between 15 and 18 per cent every year since 2015. And in 2018, too, we were forced to pay the revised fees after the arrests,” says Abhijit Hore, secretary of Sri Aurobindo Institute of Education Guardians’ Association.
Fees were hiked in the following years too and parents protested outside the school in the peak of the first lockdown, in April 2020. “Owing to the pandemic, the high court, in October that year, asked private schools to give parents the option of a 20 per cent reduction in fees. It also stated that non-essential charges like library fees and sports fees could not be levied,” Hore says.
But the ruling no longer applied the following year and so in 2021 the school removed the 20 per cent discount. “Those who didn’t pay up had their half-yearly exam results held up,” says Hore, whose daughter is in Class VII. “After some agitation, the results were announced.”
“But this year, they are asking for a 20 per cent hike, which is impossible at a time when many guardians are facing pandemic-induced financial constraints. We aren’t against a fee hike and from July 11, in fact, have started online payment of fees with a 10 per cent hike. But we are not paying the Rs 500 health fee,” says Hore.
On July 15, the school sent a notice saying action would be taken against those not paying the set fees and the next day the parents hit the street. “We are ready to pay the hiked rates provided the school freeze fees for the next three years. But they won’t do that. We want guardians in the management committee so our views are considered,” says the secretary.
The parents have even filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with the education department in early July, asking whether the school can raise fees without the department’s permission and on rules regarding including parents on the school’s management board. A response is awaited. Fees are not the only issue. Mothers of some primary school children complain that some classroom fans do not work and many bathrooms lack water supply. “My son can’t even wash his hands before eating tiffin,” said a mother, asking not to be identified. “Quality of education too has fallen.”
Ironically, this is exactly why the management wants to raise fees. “How do we retain good teachers without providing them competitive salaries?” asks president of the governing body, Sankar Banerjee.
“Besides, we have to follow the norms set by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, which state that schools must revise their fee structure in line with that of the state government they are located under. If the state revises its employees’ salaries, we are bound to do the same. We have been doing so with the state’s dearness allowance revisions too and the entire hike in tuition fees is used to pay salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff.”
SAIE was founded by disciples of spiritual reformer Aurobindo Ghose and the governing body members run it without any remuneration. The school is a registered association that does not seek profit, the management says. Its only source of income is fees. “We also make concessions for students on the basis of merit and financial status. But we have been running on a deficit budget for two years. Without a fee revision we’ll have to shut down,” Banerjee says.
The health fee that some parents are refusing to pay is used to sanitise classrooms before and after school. They also have a clinic on campus with a nurse on duty. As for the demand to include parents in the management, the authorities say it is is run by a general body of about 23 people, out of whom 12 comprise the core governing body. “The school’s constitution is government-approved and says nothing about including parents. Still, we do have a parent in our general body,” says Banerjee.
The management adds that only five per cent parents are defaulters but even that amounts to a large sum. “Most of us parents have duly paid the hiked fees. The fees at this school are nothing compared to those demanded at other English medium schools. The management must be going through a lot to maintain standards and we must help them,” said Ayan Banerjee, father of a Class XI student.
On Wednesday, Hore received a mail from the school saying that his payment (with 10 per cent hike) was being rejected. “The executive committee members of the school’s guardians’ association have decided to consult the state-wide body — United Guardians Association — to deliberate our next step,” he said on Wednesday. “We hope to go to school on July 22 and demand a date for a meeting with the management.”
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