Dear Corruption Watch

I am a parent who is a member of the school governing body (SGB) at my child’s high school. I also serve as its secretary. We run various fund-raising projects through the course of the year and receive donations from local businesses. However, the principal of the school never accounts for the money we receive. He always just says it is expensive to run a school. The principal and the treasurer of the SGB also never present us with the audited financial statements of the school. Recently, the principal ordered and paid for school supplies that were never received. Parents often ask me what we are doing with the money that we raise because the school needs a lot of improvement. Please help.

SGB Secretary

Dear SGB Secretary

The overall governance and financial management of a school vests in the school governing body and its members – not the principal. The SGB is given specific financial management duties under the Schools Act. It is responsible for establishing a school fund, preparing an annual budget, collecting and administering school fees, keeping financial records, appointing an auditor, supplementing the school’s resources and fundraising.

The principal is responsible for professional management at the school. This means seeing to the day-to-day administration and learning at the school, managing the pupils, teachers and support staff, implementing curriculum activities and department directives, and so on.

The principal must be a member of the SGB (and should sit on its finance committee, if established), and may perform financial duties that it delegates to him or her. However, the principal does not have any independent financial management powers and duties; the principal’s role is to support and assist the SGB. If the principal — or any other member of the SGB, such as the treasurer — obstructs the body in the performance of its financial management functions, it is up to the SGB to hold that member to account.

The SGB should demand that there is proper record-keeping, auditing and reporting on finances, because these are processes required by law. If it appears that these processes are not being followed, the SGB should investigate and take appropriate remedial action in accordance with its constitution and the department’s code of conduct for SGBs. The SGB should also advise the provincial head of department or MEC of its findings. As the school principal’s employer, they should take disciplinary measures against him or her in the event of financial misconduct.

Other measures you can take to improve the capacity of your SGB and eliminate or reduce the mismanagement of funds include :

  • Approach the head of department for financial management training. The Schools Act provides for continuous training for SGBs;
  • Establish an SGB finance committee including persons (staff, parents or community members) with financial skills or training;
  • Develop and implement a school finance policy that spells out the rules and procedures for handling money and assets and defines the duties of the treasurer, finance officer, auditor, finance committee, principal and others delegated with specific tasks;
  • Although the Schools Act requires an annual external audit by a public accountant or auditor, internal auditing should also be done on a more regular basis. The SGB could appoint a team to do monthly checks of the school’s finances;
  • Ensure that proper authorisation is given for all purchases;
  • Record and protect stocks, stores and other assets against loss or theft. Maintain asset registers;
  • All income due to the school should be identified and all collections should be receipted, recorded and banked promptly; and
  • The school should control the operation of only one bank account and reconcile the bank balance with the accounting records.

This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times

Excerpt
I am a parent who is a member of the school governing body at my child’s high school. I also serve as its secretary. The principal and the treasurer of the SGB never present us with the audited financial statements of the school. Parents often ask me what we are doing with the money that we raise because the school needs a lot of improvement. Please help.