Meeting of the Council on Local Self-Government Under the Chairman of the State Duma

On 7 July 2011, N. I. Mironova, research fellow of the Department of Municipal Development of the Gaidar Institute, took part in the meeting of the Council on Local Self-Government Issues Under the Chairman of the State Duma, where the processes of implementing the powers of bodies of local self-government pertaining to pre-school and primary school education were discussed.
Among the issues discussed at the Council’s meeting, the following three were found to be the most urgent ones: 1) shortage of available pre-school establishments for children (PSE); 2) small-sized schools in rural areas; 3) low salaries of the educational staff. Regretfully, such important aspects of pre-school and school education as professional qualification and competence of tutors were not touched upon in the discussion.

According to the data published by the RF Ministry of Education, as of 1 January 2011 there were 1,684 mn of children on the waiting lists to kindergartens. By the present moment, as stated by V. Timchenko, Chairman of the of the State Duma’s Committee on Local Self-government Issues, their number has increased to 1 mn – due both to the existing demographic situation in this country and the ongoing reshuffling of the PSE system within the framework of municipal reform. Thus, in particular, approximately 5,000 pre-school establishments that had formerly serviced more than 424 thousand children were later changed into facilities to be utilized for other purposes (one such example was cited at the Council’s meeting by Novosibirsk Mayor V. Gorodetsky – when a building originally constructed as a kindergarten was being occupied by a federal court of justice, and the court did not want to transfer it into municipal ownership), and only one-fifth of all such buildings have been turned back into PSE in recent years. The speakers at the meeting noted lack of funding in local budgets for the construction of new kindergartens and capital repairs of the existing ones – even in big  cities. Therefore they demanded that an appropriate federal target program be elaborated and adopted, to be funded on the basis of co-financing.

At the Council’s meeting the participants raised the issue of feasibility of public-private partnerships, the development of variable forms of pre-school education, including the system of private establishments for children and family-owned kindergartens. However, one major problem today is the difficulty of obtaining the relevant licenses by private establishments.

At present, as a result of a substantial decline in the number of students in rural areas, the number of small schools is increasing. And, although existing legislation envisages a system of measures designed to support such schools, the year 20111 will see a continuation of the trend of shutting-down small schools. According to Rospotrebnadzor’s data, this year it is planned to close 541 small-sized schools. The highest percentage of schools of this type is noted in Riazan Oblast (15.4 %), Penza Oblast (5.6 %), Kostroma Oblast (4.9 %) and Perm Krai (3.8 %).

Legal recognition of some rural schools to be small, situated in poorly accessible, remote or borderline areas results in growth of inefficient spending in the sphere of education. The Council has raised the issue of absence in existing legislation any definition of a small-sized educational establishment situated in a rural area and the criteria for placing educational establishments of different types (pre-school, universal-curriculum) in the category of small-sized ones. This obviates any uniformity in requirements for organizing the operation of such establishments, thus making them dependent on the specific potential of the municipal formation in whose territory they are situated. So the list of recommendations put forth by the Council has included the demand that this gap in legislation be appropriately filled.

Another problematic issue is the organization of transportation of schoolchildren in rural areas. Municipal formations, for lack funding of their own, cannot provide schoolchildren with transportation services, and so the meeting’s participants pointed out the necessity to develop appropriate federal and regional programs.

The Council noted that teachers’ salaries, in spite of having increased in recent years, still fall behind the average salaries in the national economy, amounting to 70 % of that level. Inadequate remuneration fails to provide the staff of universal-curriculum educational establishments with incentives for improving the quality of education, or to create incentives for young professi0onals to seek jobs in that sphere.

The text of the recommendations developed by the Council on Local Self-Government Issues Under the Chairman of the State Duma and addressed to the State Duma, RF Government, bodies of state authority of RF subjects, bodies of local self-government, as well as other documents relating to the Council’s meeting of 7 July 2011 are available on the website

1 By Article 41 of the RF Federal Law ‘On Education’, it is established that small rural educational establishments or other establishments regarded as such can be funded on the basis of cost-based norms that do not depend on the actual number of students. In accordance with Item 5 of Article 34 of the same Law, a rural pre-school or universal-curriculum educational establishment may liquidated only with the consent of a general meeting of the residents of the settlements serviced by a given establishment. By Article 13 of the Federal Law ‘On the Fundamental Guarantees of a Child’s Rights in the Russian Federation’ it envisaged that, prior to  the reorganization or liquidation of an educational establishment, a preliminary expert’s estimation of the consequents of such an act is mandatory.