AS the Eastern Cape Education Department proclaims readiness for the 2013 academic year, a shortage of teachers at some schools and a dire need for new schools could hamper its start.
While most schools have successfully received their stationery and textbooks for the year, principals were yesterday still worried about whether they would have sufficient teachers.
This is as a result of the reduced teacher post basket and the refusal by teachers affiliated to the SA Democratic Teachers' Union to comply with the department's redeployment drive.
Some schools are set to begin the first term with shortages of up to 15 teachers, and many are anticipating crippling financial issues arising from having to pay for more staff out of their own coffers.
The department said yesterday more than 99% of the stationery and textbooks had been delivered to schools by late afternoon, with some schools that were not easily accessible due to get theirs soon.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, an influx of people to developing RDP settlements – where there are hardly any schools – has seen district officials scramble to accommodate the extra pupils.
District director Nyathi Ntsiko said while the learning material was ready, there were staffing issues – and a desperate need for schools in Motherwell NU29, Chatty and Joe Slovo.
He said hordes of people had moved there in the latter part of last year, increasing the demand for schools.
There are no schools in Motherwell NU29 and Joe Slovo. Chatty has only one school – Alfonso Arries Primary – which opened last year.
"We are under immense pressure," Ntsiko said. "Two areas that are growing exponentially are without schools and Alfonso already had a waiting list of 340 pupils last year. Now that number has increased and there is pressing demand for a high school in the area.
"We are doing our best to address the matter."
Booysen Park High had been asked to take in some of the pupils and efforts were being made to secure transport for pupils who would need to travel far to their schools.
Ntsiko said they had also submitted a list of temporary teachers the district wanted to retain from those whose contracts had been terminated. They were now waiting to hear from the provincial office on this.
Principals, meanwhile, are hoping for "a miracle", and praying that they start school today with a teacher in every class.
In Port Elizabeth, Summerwood Primary School principal William Foaden said he hoped the 21 teachers allocated to the school this year would be wholly paid by the department.
"Last year, only 11 out of 18 teachers were paid by the department and we footed the bill for the remaining seven," he said. "We can't properly plan for some school activities because we are keeping money aside in case we have to pay teachers again.
"Mind you, this [teacher appointment] issue has been through the courts and still not yielded the desired results."
At New Brighton's Cowan High School, pupils may have to get by with 15 teachers fewer than they are supposed to have.
Principal Trevor Dolley said pupils had been streaming in to register, despite the school having only 21 of the required 36 teachers.
"We are bursting at the seams and hoping for a miracle – that tomorrow all our classes will have teachers."
Dolley said pupil numbers had increased considerably, resulting in an extra class for Grade 8 and matric.
"Last year, we had 126 matrics and that's now up to 172. We also have a lot of new pupils in grades 8 and 9."
A number of former Model C school pupils were also registering at the school. "We have some pupils from Lawson Brown – I think parents are looking for alternatives and maybe can no longer afford the fees and fares," Dolley said.
East London's Alphendale High School says it is not ready for the new academic year – financially, and in terms of staff and some textbooks.
Principal Clive Prince was downbeat about the new school year yesterday, anticipating only "problem after problem".
"According to this year's staff establishment, we are meant to have 45 teachers, but have only 40 – including the two approved temporary teachers," he said.
"We also did not get the second tranche of money in October last year, meaning we could not do things like buy CAPS textbooks for our Grade 11 pupils, to whom the programme has been extended this year."
Provincial Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said the department was doing its best to ensure there were enough teachers in schools. "The department has set the ball rolling to ensure that every class has a teacher from [today]," he said.
A provincial official, who did not want to be named, said the Education Labour Relations Council was attending to the matter, with 1772 of the 2332 temporary teachers already reappointed.
"These are the temporary teachers the department is keeping until April, after which time they will be permanently absorbed into the system once it has been cleaned up," he said.
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools chief executive Paul Colditz said the 1772 temporary teachers were not enough to fill vacancies "of up to 9000, depending on which post establishment one works with".
Adding to the Port Elizabeth district's woes is the possible discontinuation of pupil transport from Motherwell NU29 due to non-payment by the Transport Department.
Yesterday, the Eastern Cape Transport Department declared its readiness to ferry pupils.
Transport spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said officials were attending to the outstanding payments and service providers should have their money by today.
"We plead with service providers to continue transporting pupils as the money will be paid out soon," he said.