SOCIETY

Students in northern Greece set to shiver as fuel costs rise

?Unless we take urgent measures, schools in the regional unit of Kastoria will freeze this year. There?s no way we can meet the schools? heating needs given the sky-high price of oil and reduced state funding.?

Christos Gosliopoulos, mayor of Nestorio in Kastoria, northern Greece, warns that there?s only enough money to buy oil for the next two months.

Last year, his municipality received 37,000 euros for the operational needs of the six schools in the area ? mostly for heating costs.

?In the end the bill rose to 40,000 euros, so we had to take some 3,000 euros away from other funds. But this year, the municipality?s budget has been cut in half, so there is no way we can make ends meet,? Gosliopoulos said.

Meanwhile the price of heating oil has surged to 1.40 euros/liter, which is 40 percent higher than last year.

Prompted by rising oil prices, the Nestorio municipality is trying to make use of the easy access to wood in the area. One of the schools has been equipped with a wood boiler. But this is a luxury that Kastoria and other urban municipalities cannot afford, Gosliopoulos says.

Locals are demanding that the regions that suffer from the lowest temperatures ? that is in Western Macedonia, Drama and Evrytania ? get heating oil at the lower price of 45-47 cents/liter.

?In any case, the tax on heating oil for schools must be abolished. It?s absurd that the state gives money only to put a tax on it later,? Gosliopoulos said.

Warnings about the heating problems facing schools in the north of the country were also heard at a meeting last week of the education committee of the Central Union of Municipalities.

?We want school heating to be exempted from taxes or any emergency contributions,? Yiannis Theodorakopoulos, the head of the education committee, said.

The teachers? federation, or DOE, has already put forward a demand that the state end taxation on heating oil and gas for schools, a privilege enjoyed by military camps, according to DOE board member Yiannis Anagnostaras.

Last year 100 million euros went toward schools? operational needs. Some 80 million was budgeted for this year, but so far only 41 million has been paid in two installments. Schools have only just started to receive the second installment although it was cleared in September.

?But even if schools get the third 20-million-euro installment before the winter break, we will still be lagging compared to last year,? Anagnostaras said.

Meanwhile, many schools still owe tens of thousands of euros for heating and other operational costs last year. In Attica and other urban centers, many schools have been unable to pay their gas bills.

Some teachers warn that some municipalities have not yet set up school committees and express concern as to whether schools do in fact receive the whole amount they are entitled to.