by Kathy Tzivilakis
PARENTS across the country are being asked to chip into their children’s public school education after the country’s austerity budget slashed school funding by two-thirds.
Recent budget cuts have left many schools without books, pencils, toilet paper and enough heating oil to keep students warm through the winter.
“My son’s primary school in Nea Filadelfia [a northwestern Athens suburb] had run out of money for heating oil until the local school committee told us on November 8 they had raised 1,500 euros for the primary school and the kindergarten,” said Yiannis Zabetakis, an Athens University professor and member of the parents’ association. “So now there is a bit of petrol. But how long will it last? We might run out before Christmas.”
“A month ago, my other son’s kindergarten ran out of toilet paper,” he added. “It’s not so much a matter of money, but that public school funding has been completely and utterly reduced, to the extent we won’t actually have proper schooling.”
Funding for the 9 kindergartens, 10 primary schools, 4 middle schools and 3 secondary schools in Nea Filadelfia shrank to 86,000 euros this year from 246,000 in 2010. The schools warn they will soon start missing utility payments.
Up in arms
All the way across town, in the working-class suburb of Perama near the port of Piraeus, parents last week threatened to keep their children home until their school gets heating oil. The children returned a few days later when the local education board poured 500 euros’ worth of heating oil in each of the three schools in the area. Last month, Perama officials could not afford to feed children enrolled at the municipal daycare centre.
The Parents of Schoolchildren Federation is up in arms. “It’s going to be a bleak winter without heat,” the federation said in a recent statement. “The new budget foresees a further 20 percent reduction in education funding,” it added.
Public schools, municipalities, hospitals, ministries and other state buildings are entitled to cheaper heating oil, or about 60 cents a litre, compared to the average 98 cents a litre.
And heating oil is not all that’s running out. Budget cuts are taking a big slice out of school supplies. A school in Athens made headlines last month when it reportedly ran out of paper and ink for the printer.
One school in the northern Athens secondary school in Halandri was in the dark, literally, when the natural gas company turned off the power last month after several missed payments.
Many schools are now asking parents to pay for the difference. And it could get worse. The new 2012 budget will reportedly introduce further cuts to a budget that has already been reduced.
Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou told parliament on November 15 she is committed to improving the quality of the primary and secondary school education system. A new bill is on the way, added the minister.
“In education, reaching consensus is a basic requirement,” Diamantopoulou said. “We have some very difficult months ahead.”