NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson said yesterday while she is pleased with the continued funding of scholarships at the university and technical levels, she is concerned about significant cuts to certain allocations for students and teachers.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Wilson said the BUT understands the economic climate The Bahamas faces due to Hurricane Dorian last September and the ongoing novel corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic.
However, she said the union hopes to have further discussions on cuts in the allocations for expenses such as the national lunch program, board expenses, and allowances for teachers, which have been made legally binding via its industrial agreement.
“I am pleased funding is going to continue for the primary education,” she said.
“An additional half a million dollars has been allocated for BTVI.
“And then the additional $1.5 million has been allocated for students of the University of the Bahamas, so I was pleased to see that.
“But then, I also look at some of the line items that deals with tuition and training and awards, which was slashed by at least about 50 percent.
“And I was also looking at funding for school boards, which has been slashed to zero.
“I am still asking, contacting the financial secretary, to ensure that I am reading these estimates correctly.
“I looked at allowances and it’s amazing to see that the estimates already show that the allowances have been cut.
“The government is on the other hand saying it is still in discussions with us.”
The government has allocated $201.1 million for the Department of Education in the upcoming fiscal period — a $10 million decrease over 2019/2020.
In the budget, tuition, training, in-service awards and subsistence will be slashed in half — from $113,050 to $54,300.
The Ministry of Education’s budget for subsidies to the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute will remain the same.
Scholarships for UB will increase from $17 million to $18.5 million, and scholarships to BTVI will increase from $4.1 million to $4.6 million.
The BUT and a host of other union representatives met with Minister of National Insurance and Public Service on Monday to discuss the deferment of increments, promotions and other emoluments.
Wilson: “I was quite clear that we understand; we are cognizant of the fact that there are financial challenges and the constraints that the government has, but I know that we, the Bahamas Union of Teachers — there cannot be a carte blanche, unilateral variation of our industrial agreement, which is legal and binding.
She continued: “Remember the workers also need their money because they have bills, light, water, rent, mortgages, and children in schools, so we are still awaiting further discussions with the financial team prior to a final decision being made.
The allowances in the department will also be slashed.
Among them, housing allowance and ‘disturbance allowances’ will decrease by over $1 million respectively.
Meanwhile, the union also welcomed the increased funding to communications and digital learning initiatives in education and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced the government will provide a back-to-school value-added tax (VAT) holiday on school supplies, clothing and select food items for the two-weeks leading to the reopening of schools.
“As we also look in the budget, I’m pleased with the back-to-school that holiday; the tax exemption on school supplies. That should have a positive impact for parents and by extension for our students.”
Wilson also praised the temporary $50 monthly increase for old-age pensioners from National Insurance Board, a benefit she said retired teachers will be able to enjoy.
Additionally, the union president said the union was pleased the government will maintain the level of employment in the public service, and reduce contract and consultancy allocations, calling it a “wise decision”.