FINANCIAL DECENTRALISATION OF EDUCATION IS DELAYED
The decentralisation of financing Bulgarian education through delegating more rights to the municipal and school administrations began in 2003. However, the results achieved are far from the objectives set. This is the conclusion announced at a meeting held in Sofia which was dedicated to discussing the experience of Southeuropean countries in that field.Just 30 Bulgarian municipalities operate under the system of delegated budgets. The local authorities and the school administrations in them take independent decisions on how to optimize the funds they are launched and improve the management of the schools. Nothing has changed in the other municipalities, however - the government fixes the amount and the administrators wonder how to cope with it.The standards defining how much should be allocated for education purposes for each municipality are inaccurate, mayors who do not operate with delegated budgets claim. The funds are too small and insufficient to cover the costs. The State keeps restricting the rights of the local authorities, while accusing them of being incapable of managing the money. For example, the money saved from economies in grassing projects cannot be transferred to financing education purposes. And here is the absurd - some sectors end the year at a surplus, but others end it at a deficit.A discussion of the changes in the base standards for maintenance of the schools will be initiated next week. In 2005, schools were paid BGN134 per student, regardless of their specific characteristics and additional expenses. The money due to repair works is calculated by the Ministry of Education and Science by eye and is extremely insufficient.There are no incentives that might persuade municipalities to manage the governmental money in a better way. Neither is there a dialogue between the governmental institutions and the local administration about the faster implementation of the reform. However, there is a great difference between the rights and the responsibilities of the municipal and regional administrations. All of these problems inevitably have a negative effect on the quality of the high school education, particularly because the main part of general schools are currently municipal property. The demographic crisis provokes additional problems. 315 schools have been closed because of the insufficient number of children in the past five years.In order to come out of the unfavourable situation, we need to apply the three-component model of financing, Dr. Stefan Ivanov from the Economy 2000 Club said. The money for high schools should be provided by the State, by program financing (for special initiatives), and by the school owners (either municipalities or ministries), he explained.Keneth Davey, expert from the University of Birmingham, says that it would be better if Bulgarian municipal administrations run the professional schools as well. Now these schools are subordinate to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, or the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Mr. Davey is convinced that if headmasters are elected by the mayors together with the school boards, the present contradiction will be avoided (someone appointed by the central authorities now manages municipal funds). Besides, the ministers will have less chance to make decisions without taking into account the municipal administration.Participants in the conference were unanimous that the quality of education should be considered when resources to the schools are allocated. Among the criteria should be the future realisation of the students and the results from their tests for passing to a higher class. According to experts, that will stimulate the schools to improve their level of teaching. Currently, budget funds are only launched on the basis of quantity indicators - number of students, number of personnel, number of classes.One recommendation given by the World Bank is that the manner of education be changed as quickly as possible. It means that municipalities will be encouraged to seek new sources of revenues. The highest amounts will allow not only for modernizing the material foundation but also for introducing newer, more attractive methods of teaching.Who should be in charge of defining the salaries paid to teachers is a dubious question, too. Mayors insist on being allowed to do it, but the State is unwilling to lose its rights. Because of the low salaries the number of teachers leaving is growing. In the 1999-2004 period the number of students in schools for general education has decreased by 10 per cent. The growth of their number in professional schools is almost equal. The number of teachers has changed less. For the past five years it has gone down by 8.4% in the general schools and up by 8.8% in the specialized ones. That has increased the number of children who are to be taught by one teacher in general schools and has left the ratio in professional schools unchanged. Therefore, general schools are falling behind the professional ones in terms of quality indicators. Still, nobody takes that into account.Eventually, the problems of the high education will be solved if the State launches more money. However, such hopes do not sound real. But at least the strategy for financial decentralisation may be implemented faster. According to the biggest optimists, this can be achieved when the country joins the European Union (EU). In turn, foreign experts recommend that by 2007 we build a whole system for control of the quality of education and that the results of its activity be comparable to those in the EU. That is how Bulgarian schools will be able to take part in the market of educational services in the community.