(Trinidad Guardian) Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh says he intends to take the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to court concerning the 1,700 unfilled teaching vacancies in schools. Saying he is powerless to effect changes in his ministry because of bureaucracy, Gopeesingh said he had received legal opinions from two senior counsel.
He said they have advised that under the rights and responsibilities of the Education Minister, the ministry could determine the criteria and specifications under which anyone being interviewed for a job could be hired. Addressing a forum yesterday on special education at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre, McBean, Gopeesingh said he did not have the power to address the alarming number of teaching vacancies in schools.
He added: “The minister has no ability to move teachers from one district to another district, although they are overstaffed or some are understaffed. “So where do we go? I have to wait on the Teaching Service Commission and they will take years to do that. So I work in a system where there are major weaknesses and I cannot do anything about it.”
Gopeesingh said at present close to 1,000 heads of departments and posts for deans have been vacant since he took over the ministry. He added that vacancies for 500 principals, vice principals and senior teachers, 100 curriculum teachers and nearly 100 guidance officers have existed for over a year.
Dr Gopeesingh said that $400 million of his budget has been set aside for salaries for the vacant posts. On the TSC response to his concerns, he said:“They (TSC) write back and they say they cannot do that. So they are defying the minister,” he said.
He added: “I intend to take them to the court. It is an independent institution and while I am Minister of Education I have my responsibility. “They have their responsibility as the Teaching Service Commission.” Gopeesingh expressed frustration at not being able to implement necessary measures, such as addressing vacancies within the Education Ministry.
He said his hands were tied in hiring adequate staff to address the needs of special students. He added:“I have written the President indicating the problems I am having with the Teaching Service Commission and the Public Service Commission.”
Gopeesingh was speaking to the T&T Guardian following his address at the all-day forum but stopped short of suggesting that the commissioners’ appointments should be revoked. “I wrote the letter to the President to determine (that), because that is an independent, constitutionally enshrined institution, appointed by the President, and that will be left for his own decision. I have presented the facts to him,” he said.
He admitted, however, that some kind of dialogue must take place to find a solution to the impasse. “We have to meet somewhere. We have to come together,” he added. Gopeesingh lamented that some people had been in acting positions for ten to 15 years.
“This is untenable and unacceptable because people look for a government to govern and perform. When the Government is stymied by these types of bureaucratic obstacles, solutions must be found,” he said.