Public affluence and private squalor

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


ONE of the positive changes made by PNoy’s government is the improvement of teachers’ salaries.

Under the present Salary Standardization Law, a public school teacher with Salary Grade 11 receives a monthly pay of P18,549.

Putting public school teachers on a standard civil service grade has the advantage that when other civil servants receive increases, then public school teachers will automatically receive similar increases.

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In the past, before public school teachers were placed on the standard Salary Grade, they could get left behind. During 2001-2004, the salaries of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) were increased substantially because then President Gloria Arroyo needed their support. (President Estrada lost his job in January 2001 because the AFP “withdrew its support”) Unlike the AFP and PNP, our teachers did not receive comparable salary rises.

We understand that public school teachers’ salaries for those now on salary grade 11 have increased by almost 80 percent since 2010. Hopefully this will increase the standard of professionalism of both existing and incoming teachers.

Private schools are thereby challenged to keep up with the salary improvements of the public sector. This may be difficult.

There are those who see private school students as the scions of wealthy parents but these are in the minority. Many parents who send their children to private schools make considerable financial sacrifices in order to do so.

If the fees required by private schools increase significantly, there will be some transfer of private school students to the public school system.

Care needs to be taken.

The Department of Education (DepEd) without sufficient, if any, genuine consultation with private schools seems to be assuming that it can offload the responsibility for mounting the academic track fifth and sixth year high school classes, mandated by R.A. 10533, onto the private schools. We are not sure this is going to be possible. DepEd is not prepared to pay the appropriate fees and private school parents are not prepared to allow a situation in which they are paying higher fees for their children than other students who have been transferred from the public sector.

If the problem is compounded by private school teachers being paid considerably less than their public school counterparts, yet having greater responsibilities for the academic track of what DepEd calls Senior High School, there will be serious implementation issues.

DepEd has engendered considerable responsibilities for itself by causing Senior High Schools to be “compulsory” although the acceptance rate by parents and students is highly problematical. So far, we have not seen pronouncements from DepEd that it understands these responsibilities, let alone is prepared to accept them.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is now pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 487 which proposes to increase the minimum salary of public school teachers from Salary Grade (SG) 11 to 20. The salary of SG 20 is P36,570 per month.

Implementing the increase of SG 11 to SG 20 means an increase of monthly salary from P18,549 to P36,570. Since there are at least 500,000 teachers nationwide, this means an increase of the salary bill from over P9 billion per month to more than P18 billion per month. Assuming that teachers are paid for 13 months, the increase proposed by Senator Trillanes is approaching P120 billion a year.

Even if we wanted to, can the nation afford this huge additional expenditure?

To put this large amount in perspective, P120 billion was roughly the TOTAL cost of implementing our education system (including buildings etc) in 2009.

We respect our teachers but have doubts as to whether Senator Trillanes’ proposed bill is realistic, bearing in mind the competing demands of other government agencies.

It is not realistic to expect the budget for education to be much more than 15 percent of the total budget. No country in the world exceeds 15 percent. So if the education budget rose to P450 billion as it would in order to implement Senator Trillanes’ suggestion, then competing demands from other government departments would balloon the total budget to around P3 trillion [from P2.268 trillion in 2014].

It could be done but would need huge additional taxes and compliance from an unrelaxed populace. We are not aware that the recent advertisement for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) suggesting the self-employed sector has massive tax evasion problems fully understands the problem. We do not disagree with BIR but it needs to take a harder look at the enemy within.

Too many self-employed business people agree on how much tax they will pay to an unscrupulous tax inspector who then connives with the production of false tax returns. The self-employed businessman may cheat but tax inspectors are also part of the problem.

PNoy’s governance has our ideological support but nitty-gritty management issues are being neglected. Cabinet meetings need to be more challenging. We sense PNoy is too keen on hearing his subordinates bringing “good news” where in fact it is the bad news that forces the necessary management decisions to be made. Nowhere is this problem more apparent than with the Department of Education. It is high time that Secretary Armin Luistro be challenged on the operability of his half-baked ideas. The longer that problems with our “enhanced” education system are left unaddressed, the greater the difficulties that will occur from 2016 onwards.

The next president is being left with an education minefield which needs to be cleared before we can be competitive in the ASEAN community.*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 16, 2014.

Opinion

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