AUDITOR-GENERAL Odysseas Michaelides on Wednesday made public a letter he had sent to Education Minister Costas Kadis asking him to set the record straight on dubious practices in state schools that were costing the state millions.
Dated May 11, he called on Kadis to respond by the end of the month light of 2017 budget preparations. Michaelides said he had identified certain goings on in state schools that were costing the state money without good reason.
For instance, the auditor cited a ministry study that showed the number of exemptions from teaching hours between 2003 and 2004 amounted to the working hours for the year of 554 full-time educators. This cost the state almost €11 million.
“Bearing in mind indirect employment costs, the actual annual cost was €18m a fact that requires measures to be taken to end the squandering of public funds,” Michaelides said.
Exemptions are granted for various reasons including if a teacher needs to prepare for an Olympiad or if a music teacher is preparing a school play. Department chiefs regularly get two hours off their teaching duties for admin.
Michaelides said they had been reassured by the ministry that the costly practice of exemptions would be addressed. However, nothing seemed to have been done about it, he said.
In February last year, the secondary education chief had sent a circular to teachers on how to complete relevant forms on exemptions but Michaelides said no steps were taken to ensure the claims put forward by the teachers were true or verifiable.
The auditor-general had also said there was no justification for the practice that the more years a teacher had been working, the less hours they needed to put in. For instance, in primary schools a teacher with 1-14 years of service had to do 29 class periods per week. Those with 15-20 years of service had their class periods reduced to 27 per week and those with 21 years of service, or on reaching the age of 50 had classes reduced to 25 per week.
A similar pattern was seen in secondary education where the longer a teacher was in the post, over time, their teaching hours were also reduced. The practice was unacceptable the audit boss said.
Michaelides said the ministry had “told us the reduction is due to, amongst other things, physical reasons and less energy with the passing of time.”
“Our service believes biological factors affect all the working population to an extent. However their working hours are not reduced,” he said.
Additionally, Michaelides said if the reason was exhaustion then “why should the teaching time of a 40-year-old who got the job at 25 years of age be reduced and not a 55-year-old who got the job at the age of 45.”
He also went on to say this was not practiced in private schools and he called on Kadis to evaluate the matter.
In the letter to Kadis, Michaelides said there had been an “extremely long delay in compliance with, and implementation of our recommendations relating to matters that have been repeated for several years in the annual reports of the auditor-general concerning your ministry.”
It added that in preparation for its budget for 2017, the ministry fulfill its commitments given to the audit office in the past.
An International Monetary Fund study on education in 2013 for Cyprus found “that teachers in Cyprus have little teaching time compared to other countries in the EU,” contrary to what the education ministry says, Michaelides also wrote.
Primary school teachers union POED earlier this week threatened to strike in the new school year if the education ministry failed to resolve “education problems”. One of their demands was that teaching time be reduced for those who also sit on schools’ management committees.