Hurricane damage could disrupt reopening of schools, JTA warns

JTA President Leighton Johnson
By Clinton McGregor
The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is warning that there could be major disruptions to the opening of the new school year in September due to the damage caused by Hurricane Beryl to schools across the country.
The Ministry of Education has reported that an early assessment revealed that the damage to schools was in the region of nearly a billion dollars.
Speaking with Radio Jamaica News, JTA President Leighton Johnson recommended that the Ministry establish a special fund to deal with natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, as well as fires that may damage or destroy school infrastructure.
"The damages done to several schools were extensive and will require significant amounts of money to effect repairs. We are urging the Ministry of Education to expedite the process of assessing the damage done to these institutions, to ascertain the true cost of repairs. The summer holidays presents a very small window for these repairs to be affected," he noted.
The JTA president also urged the government to consider insuring schools against disasters - a move he believes will improve the sector's resilience. 
In the meantime, Mr. Johnson has proposed that the Education Ministry fast-track the awarding of low-level contracts to commence the repairs to the affected schools, especially early childhood institutions.
"We are encouraging the Ministry of Education to revisit the process of service-level contracts, where schools are funded to carry out minor works and projects that fall below the stipulated limited procurement threshold. Allowing these schools to contract these minor projects will guarantee a speedier recovery time in getting the schools that were impacted, ready or as close to being ready for September," he reasoned. 
He said immediate and urgent attention must be placed on primary and infant schools that were damaged, since these institutions receive "minimal amounts of monies from the Ministry of Education each year for maintenance purposes" and administrators will undergo immense pressure to effect the necessary repairs in time. 

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