2020.01.08 13:02

Lithuanian PM proposes government control over schools during reform

A school reform plan proposed by the Lithuanian prime minister has been met with criticism from the opposition and even his own party. The plan foresees either giving more power to local authorities, or pushing them out altogether, with the central government taking over the school network.

This week, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis presented a preliminary plan for a school reform he expects to be adopted as an agreement among Lithuania's major political parties.

The proposals are meant to address the inefficiency of Lithuania's secondary school network. As student population declines, local authorities are unwilling to close down emptied schools.

The prime minister's plan contains 28 points, but the most controversial is one. It proposes two alternative options.

One of the alternatives would have the central government temporarily take over the management of secondary schools from municipalities so as to optimise the network.

The second alternative proposes giving more power to municipal authorities, putting them in charge of teachers' salary funds. At the moment, local authorities only manage the upkeep of school buildings, while teachers' payroll is funded by the central government. Giving local authorities more responsibility would force them to use resources more efficiently, the logic behind the proposal goes.

“We have a problem that has not been addressed for years,” Unė Kaunaitė, the prime minister's adviser, tells LRT TV. “We simply wanted to put this question up for discussion.”

However, even the prime minister's party and its coalition partners have criticised the plan.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the Farmers and Greens Union, the biggest party in the ruling coalition, has said that putting the central government in charge was “too liberal” a plan and that the party's base in the regions would resent the reform being directed from Vilnius.

The Social Democratic Labour Party group leader insists that local authorities should be in charge of reforming the school network.

“Those who work in the locality can see better where the schools are most needed,” Rimantas Sinkevičius commented to LRT TV.

Meanwhile the biggest opposition party, the conservative Homeland Union, and the liberals have said they will not sign the agreement, since the government has failed to raise teachers' salaries, as promised.

The Social Democratic Party also says it is reluctant to see the central government take over charge of the schools.

“I honestly believe that municipalities, which are more trusted by the people than the government, know better the local needs of parents and teachers,” Gintautas Paluckas, the social democratic leader, says.

Roma Žakaitienė, the head of the Association of Municipalities, says that the government often ignores local authorities when discussing school reform.

If they were given more independent funding, “municipalities would be better at deciding how to optimise the network and could do it faster,” Žakaitienė says.

Prime Minister Skvernelis' adviser says that if parties agree on the plan, the agreement could be signed within a month.