Anglican Bishop: ‘Great empathy’ but no assurances for BATCE teachers as transition talks continue

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Bishop Claude Berkley –

ANGLICAN Bishop Claude Berkley is hoping for a win-win outcome for all parties concerned in the ongoing talks over the future of Bishop Anstey Trinity College East (BATCE) schools, he told Newsday on June 5. Talks are under way between the Ministry of Education and the Bishop Anstey Association (BAA) on whether the schools should remain private or become state-assisted. He expressed his empathy for the schools’ staff – whose status would be unclear in any transition of the schools’ status – but said he was not in a position to offer any assurances.

Berkley said a recent ministry statement said the school was due to meet with a Cabinet-appointed committee on the matter. “We are to meet with them and I would say that in the meantime discussions are ongoing.

“We were not able to meet at that time and there was an information-gathering process that was going on and that was done in writing, an exchange of information. Therefore at the moment and where we are at present, we can only say the discussions are ongoing.”

Newsday asked if there was any deadline to conclude negotiations to decide on the schools’ status.

“Not that we are aware of, except what was published in the media where the ministry had made mention of a kind of time line, a time frame.

“We don’t have that kind of information because that information would depend on how the discussions will go and what are the things to be done. If things are not done within time, then that might be an issue.”

Newsday asked about his recent remarks to a media house that no firm decision had been made on if the schools would transition.

Berkley said, “Well, let us put it this way. No firm decision. We accepted the idea of a change in principle but we needed to know what was involved in that principle, and whether there were matters we would be left with which are beyond our control.”

Newsday asked if he could give any assurances to BATCE teachers worried how the transition might affect their recognition, job tenure, salary and leave entitlement.

Berkley said, “Indeed. We have said that to the teachers. We have their best interest at heart.

“But to give an assurance is a risky business in terms of what the negotiations might turn up or how we might conclude. So we are not able to give an assurance except to say we are striving for what would be in the best interest of the teachers in accordance with what they have enunciated on a ‘needs list’ which I think we had collected.”

Newsday asked if the uncertainty over possible changes to staff’s status had made teachers very discouraged in now doing their duties and an almost work-to-rule scenario.

Berkley said he was not aware of any matter of teachers on a work to rule. “But I know they have expressed repeatedly their great distress and trauma at the uncertainty that has arisen. We are not strictly in a position to offer them ‘position X’ or ‘Y.’ This is all subject to how the discussions will be played out.

Cheryl F Greaves Auditorium building, Bishop Anstey High School East. FILE PHOTO/ANGELO MARCELLE –

“I think the concerns raised by the teachers and the concerns which we have represented have been noted, but how they will be sorted out – in good favour or otherwise – we are not at that stage at this time.”

He said the schools’ chaplaincy has been praying with teachers, and offering them counselling and support.

“That has been happening. But of course it is a very ominous kind of position to be in where you are looking at different options, spanning in a certain way.

“You probably have made commitments already, and now you are at a position that you are not sure about the continuity or sustainability of what you had committed to.

“It is understandable, and there is great empathy for the teachers. We are committed to discussing at the highest level to see how we can encourage the satisfaction of their anxieties, in other words meeting their needs.”

Newsday asked if the schools should be private, state-run or government-assisted; if ownership of the premises (paid for by the government) should be gifted or rented to the BAA; and how the public funding of the schools would change if it is private or state-run.

Berkley replied, “At the present time, there was an agreement that was in effect which I think we (Government and BAA) understand differently, so I wouldn’t want to say much more about that.

“We have a privately-run secondary school and the fees for students operate at a different level for what this agreement was negotiated when it was done 20 years ago. That is one difference. And if there is a transition to a government-assisted school, there is another kind of difference.

“All these matters are wrapped up in discussions that are going on and, therefore, we couldn’t say more about it at the moment.”

Asked if the proposal is for BATCE to become government-assisted or state-run, Berkley said, “That is a significant part of the discussion happening.”

Expressing his deepest empathy for the teachers, who were subject of the church’s prayers, he hoped to bring comfort to teachers’ minds.

He hoped due consideration would be given to teachers’ feelings, needs and concerns, plus regard for the State’s position, in trying manage what it has to manage.

“We are looking forward to, you know, a meeting point, in which everyone will win, or most people will win.”

Staff member: Teachers feel betrayed

A member of staff recently told Newsday that uncertainty over their future had led to several teachers to quitting their jobs or seeking new positions elsewhere as negotiations continued.

The person said teachers were concerned about how any change in BATCE from a private-run to government-assisted model would affect their terms and conditions.

“Staff have left the school because of the uncertainty.

“Other staff members are actively seeking new posts. They feel they might come into school in September but have no job.”

At present, teachers have ten sick days and five casual days entitlement, but are unsure how that might change under a government-assisted school status.

The structure of a school day, working hours and class timetables are also of concern.

“Teachers here work incredibly hard compared to other schools. There is an image, brand and culture to maintain.

“We have surpassed many schools because the staff have a work ethic and a dedication.”

The source said BATCE teachers even came out to work in the July/August vacation, and help outside of school hours in extracurricular clubs.

Staff have felt deeply betrayed by allegedly being kept out of the loop during talks between the school and ministry.

Teachers fear that if the ministry takes over the running of the schools, staff members would have to reapply for their jobs and be reassessed, all with no guarantees.

“Our length of service already given would not be considered by the ministry,” the source feared.

“Teachers have a pension plan now, but with the changes, the amount we would get is all up in the air.”

The source said teachers were also worried that in any new arrangement, they would be put onto short-term contracts.

Teachers at BATCE include some with master’s degrees and even doctorates, the source said.

The source was worried about the lure of better-funding for the school if it changes its status from private to government.

At present, the ministry pays the school a certain sum each year per child but the source wondered how this would change if the schools’ status changed and whether those funding considerations might affect the decision-making on the schools’ status, such as making a transition quite attractive to the school authorities, the source lamented.

“Our school has a unique structure. It will be very complex and precedents will have to be set.”

The staff member said Berkley had met staff in May at a “high-tension meeting,” but he could not give them any guarantees on job security or otherwise.

“Staff are working at their own convenience now. Very few teachers are doing things outside of their regular time.”

Some teachers were taking leave, putting additional pressure on those who stayed, the source said.

“Many teachers are in an online group discussing options and strategies.”

While noting spiritual support to teachers by the schools’ chaplaincy plus counselling by Dolly and Associates, the source otherwise felt a sense of betrayal.

“Staff are concerned. I am concerned.

“While they (school authorities) are moving ‘normal,’ there is this big albatross. We are hoping the ministry does not come with a heavy hand.

The source said it was “not nice” to arrive on the school compound daily in the current atmosphere and said staff were less co-operative than before.

“People are openly seeking alternatives. It is human nature. People are looking after themselves. Nobody likes to lose.”

The staff member said the school’s efforts to help the staff were “too little, too late.”

Newsday tried but was unable to get a comment from Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.