[PHOTO AT LEFT - ‘OPLAN BALIK ESKWELA.’ President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is welcomed by Acting Secretary Fe Hidalgo of the Department of Education as she arrives for the ‘Balik Eskwela’ program at the Rosauro Almario Elementary School in Tondo, Manila. With them are school principal Dr. Vercelina Tan, Rep. Ernesto Nieva, Deputy Administrator of the National Disaster Coordinating Council Anthony Golez, Manila Police District Director Chief Supt. Pete Bulaong, and National Capital Region Police Office head Director Vidal Querol. (Ramon I. Samson)]

MANILA, June 2, 2006 (BULLETIN) By SHIANEE MANMANGLU - Public school system to get P17-B allocation.

President Arroyo and Department of Education (DepEd) officer-in-charge Fe Hidalgo yesterday led the Command Conference of the Oplan Balik Eskwela, an inter-agency effort to ensure the smooth opening of classes for this school year.

The event was held at the Rosauro Almario Elementary School in Tondo, Manila. Prior to the Command Conference, the President conducted an inspection of the school with Hidalgo and the school principal, Dr. Vercelina Tan.

Also present were heads and representatives from various Balik Eskwela partner agencies, including National Capital Region Police Office Director Vidal Querol, Manila Police District head Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong, Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, and Director Vergel de Dios of the Metro Manila Development Authority.

As this developed, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. yesterday said government will pour more than R17 billion into the public school system this year for building more classrooms, hiring more teachers, and funding new education initiatives.

During the conference, the MMDA said that efforts to clear drainages in flood-prone areas and clearing sidewalks of ambulant vendors and other obstructions are continuously being done.

The Department of Transportation and Communication reported that it will dialogue with student leaders in cooperation with the Commission on Higher Education and the DepEd about the student fare discount.

The DTI said that it has intensified the monitoring of school supply prices, and was closely working with manufacturers who assured the public that there was no reason to increase school supply prices in anticipation of the opening of classes. The DTI hotline numbers are also open to the public’s feedback and concerns, it said.

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Atmospheric Service Administration Director Prisco Nilo reported that two typhoons are expected to hit the Philippines this month and that the monsoon will be active by July.

Director Anthony Golez of the Office of Civil Defense said they will be conducting an earthquake evacuation drill simultaneously in all public schools nationwide on June 20, 2006. Private schools in the National Capital Region will also be participating in the drill.

Querol reported that the police are prepared for the opening of the school opening and that they will be deploying 5,000 to 6,000 offices to patrol the vicinities of the schools. They will also be coordinating efforts with the security managers of schools.

DBM: Gov’t to spend P17B to improve public school system

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. yesterday said government will pour more than R17 billion into the public school system this year for building more classrooms, hiring more teachers, and funding new education initiatives.

"This is the biggest block grant to education sector in years. This is unprecedented in terms of funding and new programs. The shopping list is long," Andaya said.

The P1.05 trillion 2006 budget allots P147 billion for "education, culture and manpower development,"€ which makes the Arroyo administration deserving of a passing grade in the area of "human capital"€ development, he said.

He said P119 billion is earmarked for the Department of Education and would be used to hire 9,200 teachers and school personnel (P1.2 billion); fund salaries of 8,623 teachers, principals, supervisors hired in 2005 (P1.7 billion); buy 36.2 million textbooks and manuals (P1.8 billion); buy 1.33 million chairs (R1 billion); pay tuition of 475,000 students in private high schools (P1.9 billion); build 5,000 classrooms (P2 billion);

Build 60 library hubs and 15 regional learning centers (P120 million); buy 17,000 computers for high schools (P250 million); establish kindergarten schools in fourth and sixth class towns (P325 million); fund training of 25,000 Math, English, Science teachers (P581 million); finance Madrasa improvement programs (P100 million);

Feed vitamin-enriched noodles to 2.5 million students (P1.6 billion); repair classrooms (P435 million); fund 5,000 School Improvement Plans (P250 million); increase operating budgets of schools (R3.7 billion) and build facilities in science high schools (P120 million).

The five-year "report card" of the Arroyo administration is impressive, said Andaya.

He said a total of 40,605 teachers and other school personnel have been hired since 2001.

Some 9,200 teachers and other personnel will be hired this year, with 5,300 positions already approved by the DBM.

The combined annual salaries and allowances of 49,805 education personnel is about P 8.9 billion a year, he said. An entry-level Teacher 1 receives a gross annual pay of P119,256 plus P45,248 in additional compensation.

Andaya said by the end of the year, the Arroyo administration would have already spent R12 billion for classrooms since it assumed power in 2001.

He said that the 2001 to 2006 budget for textbooks amounts to R5.46 billion, with this year’s allocation of R1.8 billion as an "all-time" high.

"In some core subjects, we have achieved 1:1 textbook-to-pupil," he said. "But increasing public school enrollment triggered by population growth rate and the migration of students from private to public is creating a tremendous budget pressure."

Public school population has increased by almost two million since 2000, or from 15.9 million to the expected 17.85 million this June.

"For example, DepEd is expecting close to 300,000 more students this year as compared to last year," he said .

"The fact is that the population of a medium-sized city is added to the number of public school students every year," he said.

This, he stressed, will in turn create a funding pressure of about R2.5 billion.

He said that based on a class with 50 students, government will have to hire 6,000 teachers (P1.072 billion); build 3,000 classrooms (P1.2 billion) on two shifts per room; buy 1.8 million textbook (P90 million ) and 300,000 chairs (P225 million).

Based on DepEd records, the average cost of a textbook is R50; the gross pay of a teacher, including government contribution to pension is R178,815 per annum; a seat is priced at R750, and a classroom costs P400,000 to build.

Congressmen urged to use ‘pork barrel’ for building schools By DAVID CAGAHASTIAN

Malacañang yesterday urged congressmen to allot a bigger portion of their "pork barrel fund" to education programs in respective districts after education officials said there is a shortage of classrooms in the country less than a week before the opening of classes.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said congressmen should use their annual R40 million Priority Development Assistance Fund to address the shortage of classrooms in the country.

After an inter-agency meeting led by President Arroyo on the government’s "Oplan Balik Eskwela" program, Defensor said the country’s classroom shortage is pegged at 1,020 at the government’s target ratio of providing one classroom for every 100 students.

However, education officials earlier said the shortage in classrooms would reach 6,000 if calculated based on the ideal ratio of one classroom for every 45 students.

Defensor said an official report from the Department of Education should first be submitted before an official figure of the classroom shortage in the country could be determined.

He cited several factors that may change the number of students for the next school year, and consequently the ratio of classrooms to students, including the widespread transfer of private school students to public schools due to lack of money for higher tuition fees.

President Arroyo and DepEd officer-in-charge Fe Hidalgo had a disagreement in a Cabinet meeting this week over the ratio between classrooms and students that would be most conducive to learning, with Mrs. Arroyo saying that a ratio of one classroom to 100 students, divided into 50 for the morning and afternoon school shifts, is enough to effect better education among the estimated 20 million elementary and high school students enrolled in public schools in the country.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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