Thursday, September 15, 2011

The budget cuts which hobbled GEPIK - Part 1

Two months ago, on July 20, it was announced that, due to budget cuts by the Gyeonggi Provincial Council, GEPIK would be forced to cut hundreds of jobs for native speaking teachers. At the time I started researching this article and then got too busy to finish it. Here is the first half:

Below is a bit of background to help put the budget cuts in context. First off, here is the structure of power in Gyeongggi (and all provinces):

Executive Branch: Gyeonggi Provincial Government, headed by Governor Kim Moon-soo(GNP)
Gyeonggi Province Office of Education, headed by Education superintendent Kim Sang-gon (Progressive)
Legislative Branch: Gyeonggi Provincial Council (Dominated by Democratic party)

Progressive education superintendent Kim Sang-gon was elected in a by-election in April 2009, and was indicted for negligence in March 2010 for refusing to follow orders to take disciplinary action against "15 unionized teachers for their issuance of an anti-government statement," which should give some idea of where he stands. He was re-elected in the June 2010 elections; Governor Kim Moon-soo was also elected at that time. They are both profiled here. That election also saw the Democratic Party win the majority of seats (76 out of 131) in the Gyeonggi provincial council (it's members are listed here).

The council legislates the funding for the executive branches; in Seoul, the Seoul Metropolitan Council diverted funding from mayor Oh Se-hoon's pet projects to fund free lunches. Gyeonggi-do has seen similar things happen. On September 18, 2010, the Joongang Daily reported that
A student-rights ordinance and a supplementary budget for free school lunches were passed by the Gyeonggi provincial council yesterday.

The two bills, the first of their kind in Korea, were submitted by the Gyeonggi provincial office of education and approved by the Democratic Party-dominated council. Councilors from the minority Grand National Party were absent from the session.

Gyeonggi education superintendent Kim Sang-gon won his position in May 2009 on a campaign pledge to expand free school meals to all school children. Control of the provincial council passed to the Democratic Party after elections in June. [...]

The free lunch budget supplement is for 19.2 billion won ($16 million), which covers half the cost of lunches for 5th and 6th grade students in 22 cities and counties for this year. The rest is expected to be financed by city and county budgets. The bill will be implemented this month.

“Indiscriminate distribution of free school meals to all students regardless of their parents’ economic status is not right,” said Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-soo, member of the GNP.
On December 20, the Joongang Daily continued the story:
Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo of the GNP conceded on Dec. 15 to demands by the DP-controlled Gyeonggi Provincial Council to start free meals in elementary schools next year on the condition that he [SIC - it] wouldn’t cut budgets for Gyeonggi’s key projects.

The province’s budget for meals will be raised to 40 billion won ($35,000) from the current 5.8 billion won.
By that time, plans were in motion to begin cutting the number of native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do. According to a November 23 Yonhap article, the Gyeonggi Office of Education planned to reduce the number of native speaking teachers for the first time in 2011. At the time, out of 2,183 elementary, middle and high schools, 2032 had 2,256 native speaking teachers working for them, and the plan was for 200 (or 8.8%) to be cut in 2011. The Gyeonggi-do office of education has pointed out that they planned to increase the budget for native speaking teachers by 500 million won to 4.5 billion won in 2011 and hire specialist Korean English conversation instructors.

A November 25 Donga Ilbo article elaborated further on the latter instructors, saying that Gyeonggi-do began selecting Korean English conversation specialist instructors in June 2009, and that there were currently around 650 working in schools, with plans to raise the number to 1000 in 2011.

A article published November 29 (and translated here) had quotations from Rep. Jo Myeong-ho, a member of the Gyeonggi provincial council’s education committee, which make clear how he felt about foreign teachers:
Rep. Jo Myeong-ho stated that, "If someone possesses a 4 year degree from a university in countries like the US, Britain or Canada, they can work as a native speaking teacher whether or not they have a related major or teaching certificate," and, "Expenses for a single teacher cost more than 40 or 45 million won per year, but there is no data to objectively evaluate their educational effectiveness."

"The time has come to verify their educational ability and qualifications," and, "it's time to improve English education which has given unconditional preference to foreigners with inadequate qualifications and ability," he added.
Keep in mind that the provincial council’s education committee and the office of education are two completely different entities.

A March 1 Korea Times article looked at the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education's plans to reduce the number of foreign teachers:
According to the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, the budget allocated to hire foreign English teachers fell to 22.7 billion won ($20 million) for this year from 30 billion won in 2010.

Cho Young-min, senior supervisor of the education office, said the budget cut is in line with the plan to reduce the number of foreign teachers in phases in the years to come.

"We plan to cut about 200 teachers in 2011 from this month. We will also gradually cut the overall number in the coming years," the supervisor said. [...]

Arranged as a three-year project, the English program by the provincial office had hired more teachers over the past three years. In 2010, the number of teachers increased to some 2,252 in Gyeonggi, a 110 percent jump from 2008 when they first started out with some 1,000.

However, after reaching its peak last year, the number of foreign teachers is expected to slide over the next three years in the province surrounding Seoul.

Cho said the cut will be made upon requests from schools, with Korean English conversation teachers replacing them. [...] [He also said,] "The rumors that the budget was cut because of the free meal program is not true," Cho said, emphasizing that the reduction was planned all along.
Despite Rep. Jo Myeong-ho saying that
there was a need to "verify [foreign teachers'] educational ability and qualifications," as if such a thing had never been done before, the same article had this to say about foreign teachers in Seoul:
In a 2009 survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, more than 90 percent of 5,500 parents, students and teachers said that they thought the program was helpful, while 93 percent of Korean teachers were very satisfied with the foreign teachers’ qualifications and class performance.
That certainly sounds positive. It makes one wonder why there are so many negative articles about foreign (public school) English teachers. But I digress.

On March 29, the Korea Herald reported on a hiring freeze of native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do:
The Gyeonggi-do English Program in Korea announced that it would not hire any new teachers, or renew current contracts ending between this May 25 and Aug. 31.

An email sent Tuesday signed as from GEPIK coordinators and Gyeonggi Province Office of Education seen by The Korea Herald said the three-month freeze was to allow the organization to restructure and streamline the program.

“We are aiming to set contract dates for September 1st and March 1st so that the GEPIK structure will be more standardized,” the email to its employees stated.
Another Herald article from April 5 about differences in hiring of foreign teachers in different regions of the country showed Daegu leading in hiring this year, and added that
Gyeonggi Province saw a drop of 11 percent in the number of teachers hired ― a total reduction of about 250 teachers. The decline is less than an 18 percent cut announced in November, but more than the 200 cuts it hinted at in March.
On July 20, the Korea Times (found via I'm No Picasso) reported that
The Gyeonggi Provincial Council passed a supplementary budget bill submitted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education (GPOE) Tuesday, but excluded the 15.6 billion won needed to extend the contracts of foreign English teachers.

Officials from the council said that they cut the budget as part of long-term plans to eventually reduce the number of foreign teachers and replace them with Koreans.

With the budget cut, about 819 teachers will have to find new jobs in the coming months, officials said.

Out of the 1,119 foreign English teachers in elementary, middle and high schools who receive their salary from the education office, 300 have already been laid off. [...]

The contract for foreign English teachers in local schools is valid for one year. Those whose contract expires in October, November and December will not be able to renew them. Contracts for at least 196 teachers are to expire during those three months.

However, the remaining 623 teachers whose contracts are just underway are the ones facing immediate trouble because they may not be able to receive their salaries starting next month.

The budget cut is drawing criticism even from GPOE officials.

“The situation is ridiculous. It’s not even a half reduction or one-third reduction, but a total reduction. We feel very uncomfortable with the decision right now,” said an official from the office. “The budget should not have been taken away. If we don’t receive this, we’re not even getting what we should be getting. This has never happened before.”
Much the same information was to be found in the only Korean language article specifically about the cuts to GEPIK by NoCut News, titled 'Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly cuts entire budget for native speaking teachers..."What are we to do suddenly?"' It adds the following figures:
According to the NoCut News article there are 2093 native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do, with 1,161 in elementary schools, 569 in middle schools, and 372 in high schools. Of these 2093, 1,119 are provided for by the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education (GPOE), while the other 974 are provided for by local city or county governments.
So we know that of the 1,119 teachers funded directly by GEPIK, 300 were [being] laid off, leaving 819, while from the 2,256 total native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi last November, there were (as of July) 2093.

As it turns out, however, these budget cuts affected more of the education budget than just GEPIK. I'll look at that more closely in part 2 [here].

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