SUMMER is over.

About 20.9 million students return to school today.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) will welcome the opening of classes by having a nationally-coordinated protest. They are seeking an increase in their basic salary from P 18,549 (which is the Civil Service Salary Grade 11) to P25,000 per month, and that of the non-teaching staff from P 9,000 to P 15,000 per month.

Gualberto Dajao, ACT regional president, says there has been no salary increases for teachers. Is this true? Now that teachers are on the standard Civil Service pay scale, then surely they receive salary increases in line with other civil servants.

Anyhow the ACT-Western Visayas says that teachers will assemble in front of Rizal Elementary School at 5 p.m. today and will march to the Fountain of Justice at Luzuriaga Street, Bacolod City.

How many teachers will attend?

I am not sure how many teachers belong to the ACT which has a party-list member of the House of Representatives, Antonio Tinio. He has authored House Bill 245 seeking the salary increases. Senator Trillanes also supports the idea of teachers being paid much more and has proposed that they are placed on Salary Grade 20 which corresponds to P36,000 per month.

Private schools are being challenged by the salaries being paid to public school teachers. The steady exodus of teachers from the private to the public sector will increase if the ACT demands are met.

Private schools experience cost increases which have to be passed on to those who send students to these schools. The Department of Education (DepEd) sends out an annual directive to the private schools stating that 70 percent of any fee increases should be allocated to teachers’ salaries. I do not believe that private schools always obey this instruction, partly because the private schools’ cost structure is substantially different from the public schools. Private schools spend more on security and on maintaining and enhancing their buildings. Some private schools even have air-conditioning.

DepEd’s lack of effective response to the damage caused by Yolanda is disappointing. The typhoon struck in early November 2013 while the 2014 budget was still being discussed in Congress. Budgetary constraints are being used too often by DepEd to not undertake urgent tasks.

DepEd has a budget allocation of P337 billion for 2014. This should be enough to build the schools and classrooms necessary to implement our compulsory education system. It is regrettable that much time is wasted by soliciting funds from various worthy bodies when the funds should be made available direct from DepEd.

Last week, for example, it was announced that public elementary and high schools in Bacolod City will receive classrooms funded by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), the Bacolod Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce Industry, and the Filipino-Chinese community. Why aren’t these classrooms paid for by DepEd? It has the money. It involves expensive time-wasting when the begging bowl is passed around charitable organizations.

DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro says that teachers’ salaries would be increased “so long as there is adequate funding.” Luistro needs to show decisive leadership. If he thinks teachers should be paid more, he should put his proposal in the 2015 budget which is now being prepared. He will be challenged by his cabinet colleagues who have their own departments to run, and by Congress.

DepEd needs professional management.