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Sala joint school office

From Municipal Cooperation

Sala joint school office
Service Areas: Culture and Education
Country: Slovakia
Municipalities: Diakovce, Dlha nad Vahom, Hajske, Horna Kralova, Kralova nad Vahom, Mocenok, Neded, Selice, Sala, Tesedikovo, Trnovec nad Vahom, Vlcany, Ziharec
Contact persons: Michal Vrbovsky, Eliska Vargová
Legal form: Public law agreement
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Coordinates: 48° 8' 9" N, 17° 50' 33" E
Photo 1 Good Practice Form for IMC SALA revised Bucek-FINAL.jpg
Photo 2 Good Practice Form for IMC SALA revised Bucek-FINAL .jpg
Photo 3 Good Practice Form for IMC SALA revised Bucek-FINAL.jpg

Description of the problem/need for IMC

The progress in decentralization in Slovakia had been behind this joint school office foundation. A certain scope of competencies in school administration had been transferred to local self-governments as both ‘original powers’ and ‘delegated powers’. The original powers particularly concern school management and maintenance of school buildings and facilities (kindergartens, primary schools – up to nine years of schooling), whereas delegated powers particularly concern professional aspects of education. Professional issues concerning pedagogy remained delegated powers only, i.e. under stricter state regulation and supervision. Each municipality could decide on how it would manage these powers through its own decisions. Most of municipalities internalized the capacities and responsibilities for maintaining school buildings and other school facilities within their own offices. Many municipalities also took on operational tasks – personnel, economic, accounting.


Professional issues called for different solutions. For example, the delegated competencies in education cover various issues and activities, including various teaching subjects, decisions, and different kinds of reporting. According to legislation, school offices should serve this purpose. The approaches of the municipalities were influenced by a limited set of national legislation for establishing school offices in the municipality, which required at least 1,000 pupils. Under such conditions, only municipalities with a large number of pupils or joint offices covering more municipalities were able to have a formally recognized school office that could manage professional school issues. The excluded professional issues of municipalities were directly supervised and managed by the regional school office of the state administration. This was not possible for the remote municipalities because of the distance to the state administration.


As expected, financial issues are very important. Municipalities obtain resources transferred from the state budget for schools based on a precise calculation related to number of pupils in their schools, which is included in distribution formula of shared taxes. From this source that finances the local school in general, municipalities can only afford one part-time employee or one full-time administrative staff member dedicated to school administration and work delegated within the municipal office. For the smallest municipalities with a very small municipal office, this has remained a problem, although they have only a kindergarten and a small primary school.


These problems led municipalities to administer professional competences in school administration by a joint school office in order to take advantage of one subsidy per professional school staff combine low costs (when needed) and obtain an efficient and quality school administration. This means that the Joint School Office would be close to their schools, easy available, more suitable to satisfying local needs and incorporated into the social life in its regional jurisdiction. The interest of the participating municipalities in having good schools that provide quality education is important because it is often one of the most sensitive local issues, carefully observed by the local population. Nevertheless, these powers are based more on contact with mayors, school principals, teachers and school canteen managers, and less on direct contact with citizens.


Description of the IMC practice

This Joint School Office is a single-purpose office providing professional school administration within the framework of delegated powers (according to Act No. 596/2003). It supervises educational activities and school catering, provides organizational guidance for school principals, provides professional counselling to schools and schools facilities (including training, seminars, regular meetings), administers selected economic activities, manages statistics and provides the reporting required. It also provides personnel, salaries and economic administration for schools in Sala and another three municipalities according to special amendments to the established agreement.


The Joint School Office of Sala serves 13 municipalities, with approximately 54,000 people (as at 2007). One half of this population lives in Sala, the geographic urban centre of this region. Most of the other municipalities are larger rural settlements (mainly with a population of 1,000–4,000), typical in the lowlands of western Slovakia. The Joint Office manages the needs of about 4,600 pupils. The school network includes 24 schools, a large number when compared to that of the participating municipalities, which is also due to the fact that in most municipalities, there are two schools – with Slovak and Hungarian as the languages of instruction.


The Joint School Office is not an independent legal body. The legal basis of its operations is the agreement of participating communities, based on Municipal Act 369/1990 as amended. It operates within the Municipal Office of Sala Municipality. As the office managing delegated powers, its work is strongly influenced by rules and requirements set by national legislation, the Ministry of Education and the Regional School Office of the State Administration.

At present, there are seven job positions in this office (equal to 5.5 full-time jobs; i.e. some staff are only part-time). The Joint School Office has a Chairperson (full-time), three educational professionals (one full-time, two part-time), and three officials managing accounting and the personnel agendas (full- time, mainly serving the City of Sala). The professional staff – four persons, including the Chair of the Office – are specialized according to school level (first to fourth year, fifth to ninth years) and teaching subject (languages, natural sciences, etc.).


The Joint School Office operations are financed by direct transfers from the state budget calculated, by methodology of one professional per 1,000 pupils: the State covers salaries, obligatory insurance payments) and minor operating costs calculated on per pupil principle (EUR0.5 per pupil a year). This transfer is provided through the Regional School Office to the City of Sala as a legal entity within which the Joint School Office is working. Due to the size of population served and large number of pupils, no regular financial contributions are required from participating municipalities. Special needs (e.g. for the Annual Award Ceremony for the best teachers) are covered according to additional agreements by the mayors with contributions from local budgets. Three municipalities receiving more services from the Joint Office pay for them according to a contract signed between the Office (represented by the City of Sala) and the municipality (or particular school if it is legal entity).


The Joint School Office focuses on work mainly with mayors, school principals, teachers and other school staff. This Office is mainly accountable to the mayors representing their municipalities and local schools, and toward higher levels of the state administration in school administration and education. The work of the Joint Office is regularly monitored and supervised by the mayors of the participating municipalities. It regularly prepares special evaluation reports distributed to the mayors of all participating municipalities. Its work can be observed by the plan of activities prepared on a monthly basis, as well as by reviewing the main guidelines prepared for the school year. Any problems related to the school are immediately resolved through cooperation of the mayors, the Joint School Office and school principals.


Establishment of the IMC practice

The main success factors are:

  • being simple, and easily available to all municipalities;
  • good networks of actors within a region – mayors and state administration;
  • support and interest of the big municipality to serve as centre for other municipalities in this field;
  • respect for the specialized expertise of school administration needed for good education in their schools.

The first step leading to the establishment of the Joint School Office included discussions between mayors of municipalities in the region and staff working at the state administration dealing with school and educational matters. Both sides were interested in resolving issues in advance – mayors needed smooth operating school administration, and the staff working at that time in the school state administration were interested in preserving their jobs. When decentralization in this field was decided, a joint meeting of mayors and state administration official was organized. Participating mayors and officials concluded that the best idea would be to have one larger joint school office. The main requirements in this field are professional administration experience and specialization, which are hardly achievable within small municipalities. As a result, a small group of representatives of municipalities and school administrations prepared an agreement later submitted for approval by local councils and signed by the mayors of the participating municipalities. After signing procedures, selection of staff and preparation of other needed documents, the Joint Office was ready for the uninterrupted transfer of powers from the state administration. As a result of the efforts of the municipalities and schools’ state administration staff, the competences were directed to the newly established Joint School Office (without any break or interim administration by individual municipalities). No external support was needed. The necessary expertise had been available within local self-government (especially in the city of Sala) and the cooperating state school administration. In fact, the office of the State School Administration previously working at the District State Administration moved under the umbrella of local self-government in Sala, serving the same region as before. The city of Sala, aware of its role in the region, naturally accepted the role of seat of the Office and has provided basic services related to the office space within its City Office. The Joint School Office has been operating successfully since September 2004. Any other considerations were reduced by setting a limit for establishing a school office of at least 1,000 pupils (which would only apply to the City of Sala).


Benefits and shortcomings of the IMC practice

Benefits

Participating municipalities benefit from professional competences in school administration at almost no cost (as well as savings in operational and time costs through joint meeting of mayors dealing with school office operations). They need not deal with professional education matters in their schools. They are pleased that through the larger office they have a more competent school administration, with specialized staff, which would not have been possible if provided by individual municipalities. The current arrangement is considered better in terms of services to schools, teachers, and education of children. Mayors are very interested in providing good education and to have good schools. Due to the size of the region (and the large number of pupils), school administration through the Joint School Office does not require any regular financial contribution from local budgets. This is a very simple, clear and strong argument for local councils as well as citizens.

At the beginning, all participating municipalities provided a small contribution (SKK15) on a per capita basis to cover initial costs in the set up of the Joint Office (furniture, office facilities, computers). Since the beginning of its operations, no contributions have been necessary.


Shortcomings

There are no important shortcomings with respect to the Joint School Office. Both parties in managing school affairs are aware that most of the tasks are strictly circumscribed by legislation. Possible confusion and problems are quickly resolved by mutual consultation. They mainly concern interpretation of the legislation and a clarification of roles. The relationship between the mayors and school principals are sometimes a more sensitive issue.


The Joint School Office has very limited contact with parents. School education is provided locally. Most of the parents’ concerns can be solved locally through the school principal and the mayor’s office. The Joint School Office provides rare consultation for parents on procedures applied by mayors and schools. It also solves a small number of complaints over decisions adopted by local-level institutions.


Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

Here, a Joint School Office would be able to manage some other competencies if transferred from the Regional School Administration (such discussions are underway). They could also manage other tasks if transferred from local self-governments (especially those managed by small municipalities).


The number of participating municipalities is not likely to expand. The participating municipalities cover the territory of the District which consists of previous administrative units. Sala State Administration District, currently also serves as a Statistics Unit, as well as a region for certain powers of the state administration.

A change of legal form is not planned; the current arrangement is deemed reasonable.


Main lessons learned in establishing IMC and making it a success

  • Preference was given to needed competencies whose professional application could not be possible within individual municipalities.
  • There was continuity with the previous arrangement: in addition to staff continuity, there was also continuity with the school office previously located within the District Office of the State Administration in Sala.
  • There was mutual respect, cooperation and extensive communication of all main actors in the field of education (especially the Joint School Office staff, school principals and mayors).
  • Due to the size of the administered region, sufficient financing from state transfers reduced the need for regular transfers from local budgets and potential financial disputes.
  • The leadership role accepted by the central city of Sala –The city housed the Joint School Office and provided permanent support

It was pointed out that their experiences are relevant for many municipalities that have difficulties in fulfilling the tasks of their school administration on an individual basis or that have very small joint offices. It would be a good idea to present the achievements of this larger Joint Office to these former municipalities.


There should be pressure or motivation to develop reasonably larger IMC in this field, especially to improve the operations of the education system and teaching. Larger offices allow staff specialization in particular issues and fields of activity, which is not possible in “one-person” school offices. Numerous changes should be reduced and the entire system of school administration stabilized. Transfers of powers and roles of the particular levels of the school administration should be clear (e.g. disputes over the future of Regional School Offices of the State Administration should be resolved).


School administration is a critical field of activity. Its position, as well as that of the educational system at the local level, should be prioritized, focusing on the quality of the teaching, which means more efficient operations and more professional, specialized school administration. All segments of the educational system and its administration lack sufficient financial resources.


Willingness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

There is willingness to share information and details on operations and activities of the Joint School Office; the Chair of the Joint School Office has often done so.

Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Jan Bucek.