A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.

Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011

School back in session in Baja California

State education minister meets with students who have not been able to get into public high schools; earlier this month, in interview with Frontera, he outlined the challenges the state school system faces

One challenge is how to come up with the 27 million pesos the school system
is forgoing as it reduces entry fees for high schools to zero over four-years

About 675,000 preschool, elementary and junior high school students returned to classes on Monday in Baja California after a month and a half of summer vacation. They will have about 200 days of classes. Story, El Mexicano.

There are also about 117,000 high school students, about half of them in Tijuana, Frontera reported. About 35,000 students who attended the federal system of high schools began school on Monday, attending Dgeti, Cetis, Cbtis, Cecytem, CBTA, Cetmar y Preparatoria Lázaro Cárdenas. High schoolers in the state system started classes in the Cobach, Conalep and Cecyte groupings on Aug. 15.

javier santillan perezState Education Minister Javier Santillán Pérez (left) visited the campuses of Cecyte del Florido, Altiplano and Las Aguilas in Tijuana in the last week. He said additions under construction at the Altiplano site will allow the entry of more students next year. Story, El Mexicano. He said 38 students in the Colonia Postal who were not able to get into nearby high schools will be bused to Cecyte Playas. Story, Frontera. There also are plans to build more high schools in Tijuana and the state.

Frontera published a two-page interview with Santillán on Aug. 2 that dealt with many of the challenges facing the Baja California school system.
Aug. 2 edition interview, Page 6A Aug. 2 edition interview, Page 7A

School entry fees

One challenge Santillán addressed has to do with coming up with the money to replace the fees charged high school students. The fees are being phased out over a four-year period, and the state must come up with 27 million pesos ($2.2 million) to offset the loss of income. He said the legislature, while phasing out the fees, did not provide a mechanism this year to offset them.

He said the fees are being reduced gradually precisely because the system has to come up with other ways to find the replacement money. "This is the main worry of high school principals in the Cobach, Cecyte and Conalep systems," he said. He said he is telling parents to be on their guard to make sure the schools don't increase other fees to try to make up some of the difference. He said schools are going to have find ways to cut costs.

At the Cobach Florido, which opened last week, fees that would have been 1,400 pesos ($113) this year instead were 1,050 pesos ($85); that number is to drop to zero in 2014.

He noted that the Constitución only offers free public education for preschools, elementary and junior high.

As for school entry fees, he said the state constitution now says you cannot charge them for elementary and junior high schools and that it has been made a crime to do so. "No one can condition a student's registration on paying a school fee," he said.

He said that when these fees were eliminated, the "Beca Progreso" or "Progress Scholarship" was developed, where schools were given 425 pesos ($34) per student that was deposited in a bank account administered by the principal and the school's parent-teacher council. "We'll have to find a similar mechanism" to pay for the loss of high school fees, he said.

Free breakfasts

He said legislators also did not provide money right away when they approved a measure to provide students free breakfasts after it was found that many students were not doing well in school because they had not eaten well enough. All schools were to provide free breakfasts, "but there was no mechanism to pay for them nor the logistics to do it." He said, "How were we going to get 500,000 students breakfast in all corners of the state?" He said that fortunately, the legislature reconsidered, and that the plan now is to increase the breakfasts from 66,000 to 100,000 this year "and those breakfasts will begin in areas seen as zones of poverty ... such as all of the southern part of Ensenada, all of the Mexicali Valley and the eastern part of Tijuana."

Split sessions

Santillán said Baja California is the state with the greatest number of schools that have sessions in the morning and afternoon "because we do not have the economic means to create more schools. This year we had 25 all-day schools, very few compared with our goals. But a stabilization of the student body has allowed us to ... close afternoon school sessions and expand our educational offerings." Baja California has had dramatic growth over the decades, which has meant it has had to constantly build schools to try to keep up with its burgeoning population.

César Sánchez Frehem, who represents the state educational system in Tijuana, said Tijuana only has six elementary schools and a preschool that are all-day schools. He said the number could rise this school year to at least 17 and up to 27. Story on all-day schools, Frontera.

Analysts say split sessions are not good because they reduce time on task for students, and also because they mean that children often have too much free time on their hands (all morning, or all afternoon) while their parents are working, sometimes leading them into situations of trouble.

The teachers and the teachers unions

Santillán said the federal government pays 19,000 of the state's 32,000 public school teachers.

He said part of the national teacher's union (SNTE) Section 37 broke off to form the SETE grouping and it has been difficult for state educators to figure out how to deal with the situation.

He said the teacher union names 50% of the teachers, but that it is difficult to figure out whether the teaching position is one the SNTE or the SETE should fill. "We are trying to resolve this in the best way to guarantee harmony but obviously we must wait for the labor tribunals' rulings, which will be definitive."

The teachers union also has Section 2 in Baja California. "We have to learn to live with three unions, the two (SNTE) sections and the SETE," he said.

Parent participation

Asked by Frontera what he would like to add to what he had said, Santillán brought up parent participation. All schools are now required to have councils with parent participation. "The promise to educate children is not just one exclusive to the Public Education Ministry," he said.

Other education news:

School vandalism

In Rosarito, three schools were vandalized over the summer vacation, and two had cable and copper piping stolen. Story, Frontera. The state said 24 school were vandalized statewide.

One Laptop per Child

The Tijuana school system decided not to participate in the One Laptop Per Child program because it would cost $200 per student, money the system says it does not have. Story, Frontera

High school robbed of payroll