Education Minister Petros Efthymiou’s decision Thursday to back down on one point in an amendment that made it very difficult for private-school owners to sack teachers is not enough for school owners, who fear that the «civil service attitude» will spread to the private sector if they are not free to let unsuitable staff members go. Efthymiou decided that instead of leaving the final decision of whether school owners should be allowed to sack teachers to a five-member committee – in which teachers’ union representatives would be the majority – it will now be up to a three-member committee made up of representatives from the ministry, teachers’ unions and school owners’ associations. Private school owners fear that the minister’s decision to give way on that one point was nothing more than a tactic. A senior Education Ministry official told Kathimerini on Thursday that the idea behind the amendment was to clarify labor relations in the private education sector since a number of sacked teachers had lodged suits. The official denied that the amendment would lead to permanent tenure for teachers and would prevent owners from «psychological bullying.» Thursday’s change was seen as a gesture aimed at achieving a balance between the two sides. At a press conference on Thursday, school owners were supported by representatives of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), whose president, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, said the bill would reduce schools’ competitiveness. «The basic element in the proper functioning of a business is the owner’s ability to improve the quality of services and staff,» said Georgios Kasimatis, president of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Greece. «Education’s Taleban» was how Katerina Ziridis, president of the European Union of Businesses and Business Owners described the leadership of the Education Ministry, in order to emphasize the conservatism pervading the philosophy behind the amendment. Private sector associations generally felt that instead of acting to wipe out illegal transactions and irregular labor practices at private schools, the ministry was trying to inculcate in private school teachers the «least possible effort» mentality seen to prevail among teachers in the state sector because of their permanent status. Private school teachers, naturally, are all for the amendment. «The (school) owners’ goal is misinformation and distortion,» said Michalis Kouroutos, president of the Federation of Private School Teachers of Greece (OIELE). «That is why they are launching the myth of permanent tenure.» Voting with their feet In the three years’ since the secondary education system was reformed, applications to private schools have skyrocketed as concerned parents part with hard-earned cash to ensure their children’s place in tertiary education. Those who have gained most out of the reforms, however, are the owners of the coaching colleges (frontistiria), where attendance after school hours is considered compulsory for students wanting to get into the faculty of their choice. Greek families’ outlay on their children’s supposedly free secondary education totaled 577 billion drachmas last year. According to a survey by the polling company ICAP, the some 87,000 pupils in private schools now account for 6.3 percent of the school population. Although overall privateschool attendance has dropped by 10 percent since 1980-1981, this is due to the decreasing birthrate and chiefly applies to kindergartens and primary schools, since private junior and senior high schools have seen their numbers swell. According to the ICAP study, about 450,000 pupils also attend frontistiria. About 1 million school-age children go to a foreign-language institute. The country’s demographic problem has relieved pressure on the state sector’s classroom shortage, however. In 1989, 119,000 pupils obtained their high-school diplomas. This school year there are only 94,000 pupils, meaning that 1,000 fewer classrooms are needed. Coupled with 5,000 vacant teaching posts, the increasing number of private school pupils reflects the lack of political support for state education. «The State spends 3.5 percent of GDP on education. If there had been a gradual increase in the outlay it could have risen to 5 percent,» OLME President Antonis Antoniou told Kathimerini. This week the board of the Senior High School Teachers’ Federation (OLME) said it would be staging a series of strikes this month, beginning with a three-hour work stoppage on Tuesday, January 15, and a 24-hour strike later in the month, over the way teachers are evaluated and trained, as well as the bill on the regional organization of education.