RIGA - The Education and Science Ministry's budget for 2010 will be 15 million lats (21.4 million euros) short of planned spending, says Minister of Education and Science Tatjana Koke (Greens and Farmers Union), reports news agency LETA. "If this amount is not allotted to the ministry next year, it will have to consider which functions would have to cut," she said.
Koke explained that the ministry's budget for this year was already subject to cuts of 186 million lats from the 2008 spending budget, and that it will be reduced by another 60 million lats in 2010. This amounts, she says, to cuts of "almost 250 million lats altogether by 2010, and that means that the ministry will not be able to conduct all the functions that it currently performs."
Koke said that the ministry has "three main goals in structuring its budget - cost optimization, improving the attractiveness of higher education for foreign students, and enhancing national values, for instance, through the organization of the school and youth song and dance festivals."
She maintains that reorganization of the ministry will continue, which means that more of the ministry's employees will be laid off, and the salaries for those remaining will be reduced. From September 1, the start of the school year, teachers' salaries will be lowered, from 345 lats per month to 250 lats.
Local governments throughout the state have informed the ministry that they are planning to shut down 36 schools, and reorganize 68 schools within the framework of the schools' network reform decision. So far, the ministry has approved closing down 27 schools, this from a total of 948 in Latvia.
Ten of the schools that will be reorganized are located in the provinces; the plans to shut down eight of these schools were confirmed already by the beginning of summer. Ten schools in Riga will be closed down already from August 31, and another six will stop operating as of the beginning of 2010. Many smaller schools all around Latvia will be merged with other nearby schools.
"The ministry is carefully following the local municipalities' decisions. If the school provides quality education with successful teaching results, then we have to respect their decisions," says the advisor to the Minister, Agnese Korbe. Koke approves of the local governments' initiative in implementation of the school reform program, and pledges that the Ministry will closely monitor the reform process to make sure that the changes do not compromise the quality of education.
In order to increase the student-teacher ratio, which in Latvia is currently low, at 6.4 students per teacher, the Ministry is working on the conditions that a salary of 250 lats gross can be done only if, in the next school year, the ratio would raise to eight students per teacher, with 10.2 students per teacher in Latvia's larger cities.
This also means that local municipalities have to decide whether to pay a lower salary to teachers, or combine some schools and take more financing per student, though with a reduction in teacher head counts.
Riga's city council has already decided to close 16 schools.