Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Editorial | Lessons from the Reid-JC affair

Published:Friday | November 26, 2021 | 8:26 AM
Ruel Reid
Ruel Reid

Ruel Reid’s acceptance of a financial settlement in exchange for his resignation as principal of Jamaica College (JC) should allow the high school to settle down without the glare of salacious controversy being constantly on it. But the affair leaves lingering questions about the contractual basis on which principals of Jamaica’s public schools are, or ought to be, hired. Which should also, this newspaper hopes, revive a discussion on the accountability of teachers and the linking of their pay to performance.

With respect to the Ruel Reid matter, we make two preliminary observations. One, it is a complex matter in which several of the issues are sub judice, thus limiting fulsome discussion of their details and merits. Second, if indeed the Jamaica Government is footing the bill for the greater portion of the reported $23.3 million settlement with Mr Reid, then the Holness administration is obliged to make public the details of the agreement. After all, it is taxpayers’ money that is at stake. And, given the special and peculiar circumstances that gave rise to this issue, taxpayers have a right to be assured that the arrangements are entirely above board.

None of this, however, should be taken to mean that Mr Reid is not entitled to the best deal he could negotiate, or that, because he is a politician over whose head hangs serious allegations of skulduggery, he is not entitled to natural justice and due process. So, for an avoidance of doubt, this newspaper makes no pronouncement on Mr Reid’s guilt or innocence on the allegations against him. These matters, ultimately, will be determined by a court of law.

Ruel Reid, a former president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), was in the mid-2000s appointed principal of Jamaica College, an old and prestigious Jamaican boys’ high school where academic performance and discipline were in free fall. He is credited with halting the decline and placing the school on a path to recovery. During his JC stint, Mr Reid served as an adviser to Andrew Holness, the current prime minister, who was then the minister of education. Mr Reid himself became education minister in 2016 in Mr Holness’ Cabinet.

In order to take up this ministerial post, Mr Reid, then a senator, received a five-year secondment from his headmaster’s job. However, in March 2019, in the face of allegations of corruption at the education ministry and related agencies, some involving him, Mr Reid stepped down. He was subsequently charged for fraud.

MATTERS BECAME COMPLICATED

Matters, however, became even more complicated recently. On November 20, Mr Reid’s secondment from JC would have ended. That meant Mr Reid would be reinstated as principal of JC – which the school’s governors did not want, given the cloud hanging over his head. Among the potential scenarios was of the acting principal, who is said to have done a good job, being either be pushed out or demoted.

An additional twist is, the JC governors did not believe they had any grounds for disciplinary action against Mr Reid, since none of his alleged infractions were during his watch at JC, or directly involved the school.

The upshot: the school’s governors asked the education ministry to extend, by five years, Mr Reid’s secondment, which would allow everyone time to sort the matter out. Further, the Government would continue to pay the bulk of Mr Reid’s salary. The education ministry demurred.

In the absence of the full details of the agreement, the settlement appears to be a relatively inexpensive way out of the potentially long and sticky legal dispute that would be distracting to JC and its students. Ruel Reid’s name would not be mentioned without it being followed by Jamaica College. Hopefully now, the school can focus on offering its students the best education it can deliver.

However, the affair raises questions about what should be the tenure of principals of government schools, especially when recruited from within the ranks of the education system. Much of the public discussion of Mr Reid’s settlement negotiations centred on the likely size of his separation package. It was assumed that the payout would have to take into account Mr Reid’s emoluments up to his retirement in a decade, at age 65, in accordance with public-sector rules. In that event, the payment was expected to be much higher than the reported amount.

But, beyond dollar figures, or the specifics of the Ruel Reid affair, policymakers should consider whether head teachers, once they are appointed, should be permanent in those posts – or jobs of equivalent levels – unless they engage in specific dismissible behaviour, which are then subject to special hearings and quasi-judicial review.

But schools are highly sophisticated enterprises where talented leadership matters. Principals, the CEOs, should not expect sinecures. Rather, they should operate on time-bound, performance-based contracts, which may – or may not – be extended, based on how well they do against established deliverables.

If a head teacher is promoted beyond her competence and has to return to the classroom after a stint behind the principal’s desk, the system should be able to accommodate such a development. If they suffer breach of contract, there should be redress via the courts. This approach would lift the status and prestige of the principal’s job, enhance competition for such posts, and raise the level of performance by head teachers.

Similarly, as this newspaper has argued repeatedly, performance-based emoluments for line teachers (assuming a settled education environment) will, the claims of the JTA notwithstanding, improve educational outcomes. It cannot be beyond us to design a workable arrangement that takes into account the disparities in Jamaican schools.