'Powers of local school boards should be reviewed, enhanced'

By Lilita Balane, abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jun 11 2010 08:59 PM | Updated as of Jun 13 2010 04:47 AM

 MANILA, Philippines--The Department of Education (DepEd) will push for revisions in the Local Government Code when the 15th Congress convenes to promote well-organized and empowered local school boards (LSBs).

In a forum attended by school superintendents and local officials this week, DepEd Assistant Secretary for special projects Jonathan Malaya said that the Code has ambiguities that confuse LSBs in carrying administrative functions, in preparing budget proposals, and in disbursing their supplementary funds.

The DepEd, realizing the need to decentralize the powers to the LSBs for the effective delivery of education services, said that having strong LSBs is the key in meeting the Millennium Development Goal of providing education for all.

The Local Government Code of 1991 identified local officials and school officers as part of the LSB, but the law narrowly discussed their responsibilities.

Preliminary findings of an on-going study by DepEd and the Australian Agency for International Development show that most LSBs meet once a year or only as the need arises, contrary to what the law that requires that they should meet at least oonce every quarter. During these meetings, Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) representatives are usually absent.

Under the law, provincial and city school boards should be composed of the local chief executives, councilors, board members, treasurers, school superintendents, SK chair, president of the parent-teacher associations, and non-academic personnel of schools.

Their main duty is to apportion the Special Education Fund (SEF) to “meet the supplementary needs of the public school system.”

Improvement plans disregarded

While the law reserves for the LSBs the power to determine the needed budget for the operations and maintenance of public schools, the study found that there is no uniform procedure in budget preparation.

According to Malaya, some provinces and cities like Cebu pass this responsibility to their local chief executives. The Local Government Code tasks schools superintendents—in a city, province, or municipality—to prepare the allocation of the SEF. The SEF comes from an extra 1% tax collected with the real property dues paid to the local government units.

The schedule of preparing the budget varies among LSBs, since the law is silent about it. Some LSBs plan the budget early quarter of the year; while others make plans from October to December.

Malaya criticized LSBs that disregard the School Improvement Plan (SIP) in preparing the budget. The SIP, a 3- to 5-year education development plan that contains the vision and mission of the school, could guide the LSBs to essential projects where they can concentrate the SEF. The SIP has the profile of the school, including its problems, needs, and targets.

The law should also be clear on the percentage share of cities, provinces, and municipalities, in the SEF. Malaya said that the law has no criteria on how much should be shared to LSBs that cover more than one school district. The Local Government Code doesn’t specify either if component cities are also entitled to receive SEF from their respective provinces, since all their SEF tax collections is retained within their cities.

According to Malaya, LSBs have different interpretations of the allowable expenses or of projects where they can pour the SEF. Since the law only names 3 priorities (school buildings and facilities, extension classes, and sports activities), the LSBs become cautious to finance other projects, which they deem necessary because it is not in the Code.

Prone to corruption

Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo said that since priorities are confined to infrastructure and sports events, most LSBs fail to address other pressing problems like underperforming LSBs that have been reduced to a mere budget entity for local education funds; weak mechanisms for meaningful parent participation; and weak planning and budgeting practices and processes that contribute to inefficient and ineffective use of local education funds.

“Needs of schools differ in each locality. We should not limit it to maintaining infrastructures or sports activities…. Let the LSBs decide what their priorities are,” Malaya said. Robredo said that unclear rules sometimes allow LSBs to undertake projects, like infrastructures, prone to corruption.

For example, Isulan Mayor Diosdado Pallasigue of Sultan Kudarat said that their P1.8 million SEF in 2009 was equally distributed among Isulan's 4 school districts.

Around 56% of the budget was placed on maintaining and construction of school buildings, while 44% was used to pay local teachers. Each school districts that receives its SEF share, was also obliged to set budget for the activities of the alternative learning system.

The DepEd recommended that the Local Government Code, particularly the terms in the LSBs, should be reviewed for amendments. Other revisions would compel the LSBs to submit financial reports of income statements to the DepEd and the local governments. DepEd would also suggest a uniform procedure in preparation of budget and interpretation of allowable expenditures.

Naga City reengineered the functions of the LSBs, giving them leeway on where to put their SEF instead of focusing on what the law provides. “One school of thought held that the board can only operate within the limits prescribed by the Code. But Naga deliberately embraced the opposite--that what the law does not expressly prohibit, it allows,” Robredo said in his presentation.

In the end, Naga City measures the LSB’s performance through testings in schools, participative planning and budgeting, fair and merit-based selection and hiring of teachers, and transparency in the procurement of goods and services funded under the LSB budget like text book acquisition.

Malaya added that the DepEd and LGUs, together with the LSBs, should be responsible in providing their partners information on the problems and performance of schools. These,he said, would guide LSBs in the proper use of the SEF. - abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak