Financial woes put SMARTER at risk of losing star ratings

National 2 minutes, 40 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE Society for the Management of Autism Related Issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) centre risks losing its 14 gold stars rating under the Autism Programme Quality Indicators (APQI) if its financial situation does not improve, said its president, Malai Hj Abdullah Malai Hj Othman.

SMARTER was awarded the 14 gold stars rating in February last year after successfully achieving the 14 indicators set by APQI New York.

APQI is a self-review and quality improvement guide for schools and programmes serving students with autism spectrum disorders.

SMARTER was assessed based on 14 indicators including the development of the individualised education programme (IEP), instructional activities to ensure a conducive learning environment, community collaboration and qualified personnel.

In a recent interview with The Brunei Times, Malai Hj Abdullah said that one of the criteria for the rating callig for qualified personnel, not only requires knowledgeable teaching staff but also ensuring that the teacher-student ratio is conducive for efficient learning.

Currently, SMARTER is facing financial difficulties due to its high operation costs. The centre’s operating cost ranges between $30,000 and $50,000 a month. The salaries of its staff cost $20,000 per month.

Therefore, SMARTER’s financial difficulties may require the centre to downsize in terms of its staff, not accepting new students and suspending students who are not able to pay fees.

“Downsizing means we will not be able to maintain the 1:3 teacher-student ratio that we currently have. Our financial difficulties will not allow us to have the adequate staff to be able to cope with increasing number of students and maintain the quality of the programme,” he said.

He added: “We emphasise on quality of education for our students. We have received several applications, but unfortunately we cannot proceed with these applications because of the limitation that we are facing,” he said.

Malai Hj Abdullah, in an earlier report published by The Brunei Times, said that some of the students’ families owe the centre $15,000 in fees.

The centre will also be strict by suspending students who fail to pay the monthly fees for three consecutive months, he said.

Currently SMARTER has 115 students in its three centres and 43 staff.

The three centres are Brunei Autism Centre for Adults (BACA) in Kg Jangsak; the Early Development Growth and Enabling (EDGE) Centre in Kg Perpindahan Mata-Mata and an EDGE Centre in Kuala Belait.

SMARTER had also taken a drastic measure of increasing its fees, the first fee hike in its 14 -year history.

Beginning September, SMARTER will increase its monthly fee of $120 to $150 for students at the EDGE Centres and fee of $200 from $120 for its BACA students. Students from six to seven families may have to drop out of the centre as they could not afford to pay the new fees.

The president said the decision was a tough one to make as he had made a promise years ago that the centre will always be open to families who need their help. However, fee hike and students suspension are necessary to keep them afloat.

SMARTER will also continue its fund raising efforts with several activities planned including its sixth garage sale slated for October, he said. Proceeds from the upcoming garage sale will be use to cover operation cost.

The Brunei Times