Some KwaZulu-Natal principals are forced to turn to loan sharks or dip into their own bank accounts to keep their cash-strapped schools afloat.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in KwaZulu-Natal blamed "the dire situation" on the provincial education department’s alleged failure to pay mainly rural schools their full allocation of funds, in terms of the national norms and standards policy.

The union laid bare a number of concerns‚ including funding and the controversial school feeding programme‚ during a media briefing on Tuesday.

It accused the provincial education department of paying "less than half" of the expected allocation per a pupil — money that is used for school resources.

"The funding of schools in our province is currently inadequate and unconnected to the dire needs of schools. The department of education in KwaZulu-Natal is currently unable to match the national norm for funding as determined by the national Department of Basic Education‚" said Nomarashiya Caluza‚ Sadtu’s provincial secretary.

But education department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said: "The issue of norms and standards allocation to schools has never changed. Sadtu knows our offices‚ if there are any issues they want to discuss with us‚ they can’t expect to engage us through the media. It’s not true that we have changed the allocation of norms and standards."

The union said it received reports of low quintile schools (the poverty scores of public schools) that should be receiving R1‚242 per pupil but instead were receiving R955.

"Some schools received a mere R90,000 when they had expected R489,000 and the disparities differ proportionally from school to school‚" said Caluza.

Sadtu claims the "gross" funding cuts are linked to pupils not having proper identity documents.

"If they are not paying the allocation for these pupils only because they don’t have identity numbers‚ it is a serious transgression in terms of the constitution. We can’t have a principal who is demotivated‚ a principal that is not focused and a principal on a daily basis that is always thinking about the school funds," Caluza said.

"Principals are borrowing money while they are waiting for allocations from the department. They are under pressure because people are demanding their money‚ particularly those who borrow from loan sharks.

"We have situations where principals are taking leave because they can’t face the situation. They use their own money to take care of the running of the school‚ once that is used up they go for loan sharks‚ that’s the situation on the ground right now‚" said Caluza.

The union also brought the province’s contentious school feeding scheme under the spotlight. Two weeks ago, nearly 200 suppliers took the department to court to contest losing out on three-year deals to supply food to schools.

The department had appointed new suppliers to provide meals to indigent pupils.

The court ordered last week that the current service providers‚ whose contracts had expired‚ be allowed to continue feeding pupils pending the outcome of the court case.

Sadtu said it would propose that the department award the provision of nutrition to school governing bodies‚ which had a vested interest in the well-being of their communities.

"In terms of the school nutrition programme we are going to court to oppose the court order‚" said education department spokesperson Mthethwa.

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