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NEW FINANCING OF SCHOOLS MAY SEE SOME INSTITUTIONS SHUT DOWN

Education Ministry campaigns for new funding system

SOME SCHOOLS may shut down or merge with other institutions if a new model of schools funding, prepared by the country's Education Minister Martin Fronc, is approved this fall.
Fronc recently presented journalists with a new model of state financing for elementary and secondary schools to achieve what he said would be a more effective educational system suited for the diminishing number of students.
In Slovakia elementary and secondary schools are funded by the state according to the number of classes rather than per student. If schools were subsidized per student, the minister believes, they would be forced to behave more rationally and effectively.

SOME SCHOOLS may shut down or merge with other institutions if a new model of schools funding, prepared by the country's Education Minister Martin Fronc, is approved this fall.

Fronc recently presented journalists with a new model of state financing for elementary and secondary schools to achieve what he said would be a more effective educational system suited for the diminishing number of students.

In Slovakia elementary and secondary schools are funded by the state according to the number of classes rather than per student. If schools were subsidized per student, the minister believes, they would be forced to behave more rationally and effectively.

"The current [financing] system is not good. Schools receive the same amount of money even though the number of students is falling every year," minister Fronc said.

As part of the new financing system drafted by Fronc's ministry, state run, private, and church schools would all be put on the same level in terms of financing.

As of now private and church schools only receive full state funding if they stick to ministry approved educational schemes.

Fronc wants his draft proposal to take effect in January 2004, if the cabinet and parliament approve it. It is expected that both bodies will discuss the proposal this fall after parliament returns to work from its summer recess.

The ministry believes that reform is needed to adjust the financing of schools to the falling number of students in Slovakia, a phenomenon related to a falling birth rate over the last decade.

According to the ministry's figures, in 1989 Slovakia had 2,300 elementary schools, with 725,000 students and 36,000 teachers. In 2000 there were 2,459 elementary schools, with 42,000 teachers instructing 650,000 students.

Although Fronc thought that schools would not have to be shut down if the new measure is approved, some school principals expected that to occur as a natural result of the new funding system.

Fronc said: "This does not automatically mean that schools with a smaller number of students would have to shut down."

But according to Ladislav Csillaghy, principal of an elementary school in the western Slovak town of Stupava, such a development was inevitable, as he thought maintaining smaller schools was more expensive than bigger institutions.

While, on average, one elementary school student cost the state Sk20,700 (€490) per year, Csillaghy said in small schools one student can cost up to Sk36,000 (€860). This, according to Csillaghy, was because even small schools, just like the bigger ones, needed a certain number of administrative employees, a principal, a deputy principal, cleaning staff, cooks, and other maintenance personnel.

"I agree that schools should be financed per student. It would be more advantageous to drive children [to school in a neighbouring village] than to keep a small school alive," Csillaghy said.

But some teachers fear that if schools received money per student rather than per class, their jobs would also be at stake.

One elementary school teacher who asked The Slovak Spectator to withhold her name said that in September of next year, her school was going to open only two classes for first graders because of the small number of children.

"Some time ago we used to have so many children that we had to open four or five classes each year. Now when there are so few children, we will only open two classes next year. We fear that some of us will have to go if this trend continues," she said.

In Slovakia local municipalities have been taking over what was previously the state's role of administering regional and municipal schools. According to Oľga Gáfriková, spokesperson for the Association of Towns and villages (ZMOS), the municipalities support the ministry's plan, calling it "transparent."

For municipalities it is very important what the sum per student will be, a sum the Education Ministry has yet to decide on.

In answering them Fronc has promised a three-year transition period granting certain minimal funding standards to all schools in the initial stages of the new system to avoid possible problems as the system is implemented.

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