SGB complaints and questions: an expert responds
We got a stream of letters and complaints from parents who serve on a school governing body, who are frustrated with the way things are run. To answer some of these concerns we spoke to Paul Colditz, an expert on governing bodies in South African schools.
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In March this year, schools across South Africa selected new school governing bodies (SGB), including a new chairperson and new treasurer, as they do every three years.

To explain what SGBs do and how the election process works, we wrote The in sand outs of school governing bodies.

The letters started trickling in, mostly of concerned parents or teachers who have been newly elected onto a SGB and have found irregularities at the school, or difficulties in getting the principal on board. We asked Paul Colditz, CEO of The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), to reply to a selection of these letters.

Also read: The ins and outs of school governing bodies

The principal and SGB are corrupt

“I am a member of the newly appointed SGB and all the members are already on the side of the corrupt principal. Help me to fight that please, I am the teacher there at [withheld] Primary and we do not have athletics for the learners every year. This is wrong, help please.”

Paul Colditz answers:

If there is evidence that the principal is corrupt, such evidence must be presented to the SGB and can also be presented to the provincial Department of Education, to bring the allegations to the attention of the principal’s employer, if the SGB fails to investigate the allegations.

Also read: What could you possibly teach a principal?

The principal doesn’t recognise the new SGB

"I am the newly elected chairperson of the SGB and the principal of the school is very reluctant to call a handover meeting because he does not recognise the newly elected members of the SGB. Our concern is that he prefers to work with the previous SGB, but the newly elected members of the SGB are accountable to the parents. What can I do?" 

Paul Colditz answers:

Once the electoral officer has declared the new SGB duly elected, the previous SGB ceases to exist. It is not up to the principal to decide whether he/she regards the new SGB duly elected or not. If the principal refuses to recognise the new SGB, this matter must be brought to the attention of the provincial Department of Education to resolve the impasse.

The previous SGB Chair was asked to step down, but was co-opted back onto the SGB

“Our SGB is busy with the appointment of educators for vacancies in a government school. The SGB Chair, after having been elected 3 years ago and recently elected to the Interview Committee (IC), was found to have no legal guardianship documents for her ward. She was then duly asked to step down but she was co-opted back onto the SGB and to IC, because of expertise.

The present SGB had to elect a Chair from its members. During the month March in which schools were mandated to elect new SGBs – did this go against the school governance ruling?

The Department of Education had instructed the school to continue the process using the old structure of SGB but I am not sure if governance was aware that the present SGB Chair had been asked to step down. Can the process to appoint educators be declared in dispute because she was withholding information from governance?

The new SGB Chair will only hold post for the duration of the IC. She has not attended the SGB workshops and I doubt there has been any capacity building. If there were workshops they should’ve formed part of signed minutes of members of the SGB.

The previous Chair still enjoys a key position in the IC and that is of scoring applicants. This seems unfair as she has withheld crucial information from the SGB for her eligibility.”

Paul Colditz answers:

Section 23(6) of the SA Schools Act provides that an SGB can co-opt a person to the SGB to assist it in discharging its functions. Such a co-opted person does not have to be a parent of the school and does not have voting rights on the SGB. 

Once a new SGB has been elected, the previous SGB ceases to exist and cannot perform any functions on behalf of the school. It is not uncommon that appointments need to be made during the time when SGB elections take place and it is also not uncommon for new SGBs to co-opt members of a previous SGB to assist them in the appointment process.

Also read: Struggling to afford school fees? Here's how to apply for school-fee exemption

The SGB treasurer has been on the board for 20 years

"Is it normal or acceptable for one person to serve as SGB member – worse, SGB treasurer – for more than 20 years? And even when she does not have children she continues to serve by falsely adopting children just to stay on the committee?"

Paul Colditz answers:

It certainly is unusual for a person to serve on an SGB for such an extended period. However, section 1 of the SA Schools Act defines a “parent” as:

(a) the biological or adoptive parent or legal guardian of a learner;

(b) the person legally entitled to custody of a learner; or

(c) the person who undertakes to fulfill the obligations of a person referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) towards the learner's education at school;

Particularly in terms of (c) above, a person can therefore be a “parent” even though she no longer has children of her own in the school, provided of course that she undertakes to fulfill the obligations of a parent towards a learner’s education at the school. This means paying school fees (if it is a fee-paying school), taking responsibility for the child’s discipline, taking responsibility for the child’s school work and academic performance, and even taking on the responsibility to care for the child’s health and well-being. All that is required is an undertaking of that person towards the school. 

Also read: Controversial changes to SA's public school system underway

I think the principal is misspending or stealing money

"I am the new SGB chairperson and noticed so many things at the school. The school was allocated R2.4m and now there is R1.2m. Where has all the money gone in 2 months? Money gets used and abused.

My focus is to ensure that the school is properly maintained, and the kids have the best and safest school. We as the SGB are busy with a very strict policy and the principal is not liking it. He is even spending money before the new finance policy is in effect. The principal just wants to be involved with the money and sign for money, but when it comes to the time when disciplinary actions will be in place and documents need to be signed, then he will say that he represents WCED and the SGB need to take ownership.

When there are meetings then he always gets a call and leaves the room and decision-making happens when he is not present. When we make a decision and go forward, then he will say that we are doing things without his knowledge and approval. But yet when a parent comes then he directs them to the SGB, when you approach him then he says that the SGB needs to decide."

Paul Colditz answers:

Section 19(2) of the SA Schools Act provides as follows:

(2) The Head of Department must ensure that principals and other officers of the education department render all necessary assistance to governing bodies in the performance of their functions in terms of this Act.

"If the principal does not cooperate with the SGB, his actions must therefore be reported to the head of the provincial department of education, who is his employer."

Also, in terms of the SA Schools Act and quite a number of court judgements, the SGB is the accounting body as far as the financial affairs of a school are concerned. The same applies to disciplinary matters: the SGB is the custodian of the school’s code of conduct but can delegate the administration of the code of conduct to the school principal who must then, in terms of Section 19(2), execute those functions delegated to him. To the extent that financial and disciplinary functions have been delegated to the principal, the principal is accountable to the SGB.  If he refuses or fails to do so, this must be reported to his employer." 

A final word...  

"In general, the SGB is responsible for the governance of the school (section 16(1) of the Schools Act) whereas the principal, under authority of the head of the provincial department, is responsible for the professional management of the school (section 16(3)," says Paul. 

"But governance and management are two sides of the same coin. There should therefore be a very close relationship between the governors and manager of the school, also in terms of section 19(2) referred to above. The glue that holds the two sides of the coin together is a relationship based on respect, trust and candour. For a school to be successful, it is incumbent upon all the relevant role-players to develop and treasure this relationship.

"SGBs should also join SGB Associations who can provide training, advice and assistance in developing and building their capacity to perform their functions and responsibilities," he advises.  

Also read: “Where do I turn to for help?”: Parents unable to place their children in school share their stories

School governing bodies resources

Here are some documents that may help members of school governing bodies in the day-to-day and legal aspects of fulfilling their duties:

School governing body associations

What have your experiences with the SGB been? Share you thoughts and stories by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your story. 

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