NAGA CITY’S successes in its poverty alleviation efforts no doubt allowed it to focus its resources on improving access to basic services like education. But all its education reform efforts could not have been possible without its reinvention of the local school board.
The transformation began in 2001, when the MDGs were largely unheard of and a national government directive for the goals to be localized and included in development planning processes was yet forthcoming. But Naga’s decision then to revamp the school board’s orientation and organizational structure later put the city in a better position to address the gaps in achieving the MDG targets in education.
From a mere budgeting body of the Department of Education (DepEd), the Naga City School Board has since been empowered to make it more pro-active and responsive in the delivery of basic education. The school board’s organizational structure was also expanded to ensure quality multisectoral community representation.
Representatives from the academe, business, religious, alumni associations, and nongovernmental organizations now sit in a community advisory council. At present, the council is made up of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce president, the head of the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), and the high school principals of the Ateneo de Naga University and University of Nueva Caceres.
In tacit recognition of this Naga innovation in public education, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) regional office cited in its Bicol MDGs report the important role played by local school boards. To improve governance, resource allocation and utilization, NEDA pointed to the need to strengthen the role of school boards in overseeing quality of education in their localities and improving access to schools.
Jesse Robredo says his first three terms as mayor of Naga made him realize how “woefully underutilized” the school board was. This was because, he says, the Local Government Code continued to reflect the bias for a centralized public school system.
“For the last three decades, (this) has simply failed to work,” he says, pointing to the Code’s provisions on the local school board that “to my mind, reinforces this institutional ineffectiveness and worse, shackles progressive communities like Naga, Bulacan, Cebu, and Marikina.”
By tradition, the local government left the work of defining the education priorities to be funded by the Special Education Fund (SEF) to the DepEd’s Division of City Schools. Though the school board has eight members, often the decision-making rested on only two powerful members: the mayor as local chief executive and the division superintendent.
Because of the school board’s limited involvement, its budget, the SEF, also became susceptible to being spent on non-priorities, more often than not on corruption-prone infrastructure projects and regular sports events.
Naga City Planning Coordinator Wilfredo Prilles Jr. says the participatory development process has largely helped redefine the directions of the school board. For one, he says, the school-level and sectoral consultations brought to its attention the stakeholders’ “overwhelming preference for soft infrastructure” — in the form of textbooks, instructional materials, desks, and armchairs — over school buildings, as well as the need for staff development in terms of teacher training and performance-based incentives.
Prilles says that key to the school board’s empowerment is its strong body of stakeholders at the local level that helps in the preparation of the local education plan and budget, as well as in identifying alternative ways to finance the said plan. This, he says, has made policy decisions and resource allocations more attuned to the actual needs of the city’s 36,000 public-school children.
To replicate the school board advisory council, there are local governance councils now in place in each of the 29 elementary schools to more fully involve local communities in the management of the public school system.
But Prilles says that there is a lot more that needs to be done in this area, particularly in making the councils truly functional. “There’s still a tendency among school heads to control decision-making instead of sharing power with the council,” he says.
Still, Dr. Malu Barcillano, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Ateneo de Naga University, says that with its pioneering initiative to reinvent the local school board, Naga has crafted a “new education paradigm” that adopts a “broader view of the Local Government Code.” It does this, she says, by “applying a deeper understanding of the law, and shifting away from conventional wisdom and traditional practice.”
Barcillano, who did a case study of this particular Naga innovation, cites the project for local autonomy in the provision of quality public education through administrative and organizational reforms, guided by the principles of good governance that the city has been known for: participation, predictability, transparency, and empowerment.
“The proactive and responsive stance of the board is used as a vehicle to involve the local government officials and the entire community in owning the responsibility of ensuring that the children gain access to quality education,” she says. “It becomes a powerful tool which develops accountability of schools to the community. It reminds them that their responsibilities to the children and the youth are not only beneficial at present, but most importantly to the future generation.”