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15. Every public school is a juristic person, with legal capacity to perform its functions in terms of this act.

As a juristic person the school exists independently from its members, which implies that the school has rights and responsibilities in its own name as if it were a natural person. The school can therefore enter into contracts; however it does so through its school governing body, that is the school governing body acts on behalf of the school – it has decision-making powers concerning the school and may bind the school legally [Potgieter (1997; 12)]. A member of the school governing body shall not be liable for any debt, damage or loss incurred by the school unless he or she acted without authorisation or with malicious intent, in which case he or she may be held responsible for the debt, damage or loss [Rajah S (2003; 2)].

Section 16 of SASA [Governance and Professional Management of Public Schools] states:

16. (1) Subject to this act … the governance of a public school is vested in its governing body

16. (2) A governing body stands in a position of trust towards the school,

which implies that the overall governance of a public school is vested in its school governing body – in other words the school governing body is liable to perform the statutory/fiduciary functions relating to the school’s assets, liabilities and resources; in essence the SGB must take responsibility for the financial management of the school.

Jones (2000; 9) states that the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the books (of account) is the school principal even if he or she does not have the task of maintaining the books on a regular basis – the management of the schools finances is (however) a primary function of the school governing body. This brings about the question: who is responsible for what?

According to Clarke (2008; 280) adapted – these overlapping responsibilities need to be minimised. The lines of authority need to be clearly drawn so it is quite clear who is responsible (if and) when problems arise. There are essentially three areas of responsibility:

  • management of the financial process – this is essentially an operational role; normally delegated to the finance officer or bursar
  • financial management (of income and expenditure AND assets and liabilities); this is normally the responsibility of the school principal
  • oversight functions – ensuring that there are policies and procedures in place to control the schools’ finances; this is the responsibility of the school governing body and its finance committee (FINCOM)

The South African Schools Act makes provision for school governing bodies to establish committees. Section 30 [Committees of the Governing Body] reads as follows:

30. (1) a governing body may-

30. (1) (a) establish committees, including an executive committee (and finance committee); and

30. (1) (b) appoint persons who are not members of the governing body to such committees on grounds of expertise, but a member of the governing body must chair each committee.

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Source:  OpenStax, Financial management of schools. OpenStax CNX. Nov 16, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11137/1.1
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