photo: Marcia van Oers

PHILIPSBURG – For the past three years Manon van Herk taught at the Sister Regina Primary School. She’s leaving in two weeks. The biggest reason: finances. “Living on the island is expensive and the salaries aren’t higher than in the Netherlands.”

She’s already found a new job. “There’s a teacher’s shortage in the Netherlands so it didn’t take long.” She’ll be moving back to the Netherlands at the end of the schoolyear.

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By Tim van Dijk [English subtitles available]

“Luckily most of the vacancies for the year at the Stichting Katholiek Onderwijs Sint-Maarten have been filled, so I’m very happy”, says Morlene Richardson from human resources. SKOS manages seven schools on the island – including the Sister Regina School – and employs 276 teachers. For the upcoming school year the foundation had 25 vacancies in both its primary and secondary schools. “At the moment we’re still looking for a math teacher and an ICT teacher”, says Richardson.

“The new teachers are from Sint Maarten, but also from Surinam, Curaçao, and the Netherlands. Our expat program makes it a bit more beneficial to move here. People get a ticket and their moving costs are covered.” Negotiations regarding the salaries are not possible: the pay scales are set by the government and are the same at each school, she explains.

Van Herk would’ve liked to stay. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, but I want to start saving up for my own house for example. Teachers in the Netherlands earn about five hundred euros more per month. The rent and groceries are also more affordable.”

Loss of teachers after hurricane Irma

Shortly after Irma a lot of teachers left and the schools experienced a shortage of teachers. “This means that teachers have to work more hours and that certain classes are taught in less hours than they should be. Read and watch the report here.

The Stichting Voortgezet Onderwijs van de Bovenwindse Eilanden manages the Milton Peters College and the Sundial School. Nearly 20 percent of their teachers are foreigners. They recognize that the salary can be a reason for them not to come, or to leave after a while. “Several Dutch teachers have a part-time job to make up the difference”, says Mireille Regales-Peterson, the principal at the Sundial School.

SVOBE is currently looking for a Spanish teacher and a geography teacher. “It’s difficult to find Spanish teachers in the Netherlands too” says Angela Richards, HR-manager at SVOBE.

Court case
The fact that the foundation has financial difficulties does not help in the search for new teachers. SVOBE receives a lump sum subsidy payment from the government based on the number of enrolled students but they have a deficit every month. A court case was started, which has dragged on for years.

Richards: ‘The system doesn’t account for certain things, like the fact that we have to hire fully qualified teachers for certain classes and they have a different pay scale. We also used a part of our subsidy to repair hurricane damage. We weren’t able to pay the pension contributions for the teachers. Naturally, applicants ask about the situation.’

‘We are not the only ones with problems, the Sint Maarten Academy was not able to pay holiday pay for example’, says Richards.

The next court date will be in August. Regales-Peterson and Richards hope that the subsidy will be increased. ‘Otherwise the school will eventually have to close its doors.’