Principals and teachers were expected to return to school yesterday in preparation for the opening of the new school term next week. But most schools are without working telephones, says Lynsley Doodhai, second vice-president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA).
He said the telephone lines were disconnected at the end of last term because the Ministry of Education did not pay the bills.
Doodhai said principals complained to TTUTA that they had to use their personal cellphones to conduct school business. However, the Ministry of Education says this was not true. Contacted for a comment on Wednesday, a Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) official said substantial arrears have been cleared and schools will have full working service of phones when school re-opens,
He said: “At the end of the last school term, in the majority of schools, the phones were disconnected by TSTT because the Finance and Accounts Division of the Ministry of Education did not pay the telephone bills. Principals were enquiring what was the reason for the disconnection of the phones. They were told that the ministry did not have any money to pay the bills and they have been complaining to TTUTA about it.”
Doodhai said: “There have been some partial relief in the sense that some phones are now one way where they can receive calls but they cannot have any outgoing calls.”
He said: “TTUTA calls on the Ministry of Education to rectify this matter as quickly as possible. Telephones in schools are a necessity not a luxury. Principals need a telephone to conduct the affairs of the school. If the telephones are not restored in a timely manner it will affect the smooth operations of the school in the new school term.”
A ministry official said principals did mention phones were one-way to the ministry during a meeting with the chief education officer. A cheque of $6 million was paid three weeks ago to TSTT and the problem in most schools were rectified. The official said a few schools were still waiting for the problem to be fixed but the delay was because of the billing system and not because the ministry lacked funds.
Doodhai also said it was ironic that TTUTA was in negotiations with the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) for salaries and one of the proposals would have been for a telephone allowance for principals. That proposal was turned down because the CPO was told by the ministry that principals did not need a telephone allowance because they had telephones in schools.