Appointment of school principals politicized under Fidesz

August 11, 2017

“Schools are maintained from the taxes paid by parents, and for this reason I think their opinions should be considered most. Nobody wants to harm their children and local parents know who can perform their task well.” – Tamás Totyik, elementary school teacher

“Of course politics put its foot in the life of schools many times since the political system change, but never grossly like this” – László Mendrey, president of the Democratic Union of Pedagogues

Resistance on the part of teachers, students, parents and the local council does not have any effect if the Ministry of Human Resources wants to appoint Fidesz-tied principals in elementary and high schools, reports abcug.hu.

The Ministry of Human Resources has been disregarding the recommendations of local nominating bodies in favor of individuals with Fidesz party connections, reports the online daily.

According to István Rója, outgoing principal of the József Attila High School in Makó, the ministry might prefer its own candidates because “maybe they cover up problems better and do not bring them to the surface. They do not protest, just smile and nod as if everything was alright”.  Rója signed the manifesto of the Miskolc-based Hermann Ottó High School last year that demanded better conditions in the public education system and was a catalyst for a series of protests. On one occasion even Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár, who happens to be the MP of the constituency where Rója’s school is situated, asked him why he signed the manifesto. After this Rója assumed he would not be principal much longer. After managing the school for 22 years the Makó representative body did not support Rója’s application this year. Although he was the only applicant and both students and teachers called for him to remain, the representative body rejected Rója’s application, claiming he was not sufficiently “innovative.”

Mrs. Andrea Kunstár Horváth applied for the position of principal of the Fehér Ignác Elementary School in Algyő after she had been managing the school as an interim principal for a year and a half. The ministry chose Mrs. Ildikó Pál Gonda’s application instead, even though her application had been rejected previously. Mrs. Ildikó Pál Gonda’s husband happens to be a Fidesz member of the Algyő general assembly.

“According to the ministry’s information, they made their decision regarding leading positions based on professional considerations,” Kunstár told abcug.hu. “Still I have the feeling that the educator community’s and parents’ opinion did not really matter.”

Tamás Totyik applied for the principal seat of the Veres Péter Elementary School in Nagyhegyes where he had taught for 29 years. His application was rejected by the ministry without comment even though the current principal did not apply for the post. Totyik was a realist regarding his chances as he had been a Socialist (MSZP) member of the county general assembly until 2010 and had been critical of the government’s education policy.

Totyik concluded his thoughts: “Schools are maintained from the taxes paid by parents, and for this reason I think their opinions should be considered most. Nobody wants to harm their children and local parents know who can perform their task well.”

According to László Mendrey, president of the Democratic Union of Pedagogues (PDSZ): “The widest layers of society can be reached through schools, and in this manner the [state] power can best enforce its ideas”. Mendrey thinks this could mean actual political influence in schools. “Of course politics put its foot in the life of schools many times since the political system change, but never grossly like this,” the trade union leader said.

Many of the former principals and teachers contacted by abcug.hu agreed that when municipal councils still had the authority to appoint principals, mayors at least knew that a bad appointment could cost them their jobs. Moreover, whereas council members used to vote for candidates secretly, the current system requires that council members comment on the applications openly.

The Ministry of Human Resources refuted all claims of political appointments. “We find it regretful that some seek to bother parents and pedagogues who are spending their well-earned summer holiday, preparing for the next school year or camping with children and youngsters, with hoaxes and innuendos,” read a statement issued by the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre, the central state agency for managing schools, at the end of July.