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Basic needs not covered in Spišské Podhradie

ALTHOUGH hundreds of Slovak schools are in bad shape, the elementary school on Palešovo Square in the eastern town of Spišské Podhradie is a particularly depressing case.
The school, built at the beginning of the 17th century, doesn't meet the basic needs of an educational establishment. The exterior is crumbling, the roof is badly in need of repair, and cracks cover the walls and ceilings inside. There's barely enough light to read by and the children have nowhere to change their clothes.
"We are now in the third millennium, but I feel as if we are living two centuries ago," says Ľubica Karpatyová, the school principal.


TEACHERS in Spišské Podhradie say the elementary school (yellow building) is falling apart.
photo: Miroslav Karpaty

ALTHOUGH hundreds of Slovak schools are in bad shape, the elementary school on Palešovo Square in the eastern town of Spišské Podhradie is a particularly depressing case.

The school, built at the beginning of the 17th century, doesn't meet the basic needs of an educational establishment. The exterior is crumbling, the roof is badly in need of repair, and cracks cover the walls and ceilings inside. There's barely enough light to read by and the children have nowhere to change their clothes.

"We are now in the third millennium, but I feel as if we are living two centuries ago," says Ľubica Karpatyová, the school principal.

The problem in Spišské Podhradie might be solved if work finished on a new elementary school that has long been planned for the town's 3,800 citizens. It was supposed to cover the educational needs of children from the surrounding area (about 10,000 citizens) and replace the 300-year-old building standing nearby on Palešovo Square.

"Everyone thought the new school would be completed in four years, but it has been standing there [unfinished] for over 10 years now," says Karpatyová.

The roof is done, but there is no money to complete construction on the rest of the complex.

Completing the new school would also solve another local problem. At the moment, pupils in the fifth grade and below have to travel to a school in a nearby village, Jablonov, because they are not catered for by the elementary school currently serving Spišské Podhradie. The new school would be large enough to accommodate all grades of elementary school, so the small children would not have to travel so far from home.

Mária Fľaková, a former student of the school and the chairwoman of the parents' association, says many parents do not agree with little children travelling three kilometres by bus every morning. Her two daughters, in ninth and seventh grade, attend the old school on Palešovo Square, and she is disgusted by its condition.

"Once, my daughter came home from school and said she hadn't been to the bathroom all day. She told me: 'Mum, I can't go there because it looks horrible and the smell is really bad,'" remembers Fľaková.

"We are not demanding, but the basic needs are really not being addressed. My children will definitely not get a chance to go to the new school. Maybe my grandchildren will," she says.

In an attempt to get the new school finished, school leaders have sent numerous letters to different institutions over the last few years. The latest was to Milan Ftáčnik, the former Education Minister, in October 2000. In the letter the school board described the main problems. The board asked for financial support so the new school could be finished as soon as possible.

The minister replied in November 2000 saying that although he was aware of the problems facing many schools, the ministry didn't have the means to help. He sent the letter on to the regional office in Prešov. The office replied to the school in December 2000 with a plan of action. At first the authorities provided Sk5 million ($120,000) to help finish the building, but since that initial boost, the office has only given Sk1 million ($24,000).

"It is really not enough. There is almost nothing we can do with this little money. If nothing changes, instead of being finished, the school will decay," says Karpatyová.

It will take an estimated Sk130 million ($3 million) more to finish building the new school. The regional office says it cannot provide more assistance because there are other schools in the region that require more urgent financial help.

The ramshackle school on Palešovo Square has only five computers for its 470 pupils, equipment the school was able to buy thanks to fundraising by parents. Now every parent contributes Sk200 each year per child with the hope that this extra money will result in improved conditions at the school.

- Kristína Havasová

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