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  • October 2022 : Controversy decision of the government to finance two orthodox secondary schools

Religious controversies in Montenegro continue on a new occasion : the Government decided to finance the two secondary schools, funded by the eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with 900,000 euros.

Issue
As officially published after the Governmental session held on September 29th : „The Government adopted information on the financing of the secondary religious school ’Saint Sava’ in Podgorica and the Secondary religious school ’Metropolitan Hadži Sava Kosanović’ in Nikšić and accepted the proposals of financing contracts. On this occasion, the Ministry of Education is tasked with implementing both contracts and pay to these schools funds in the amount of 450,000 € each, which are necessary for the establishment of those institutions“.
However, the issue of the two schools has been raised in the public much before this governmental decision. It goes back to the last month of the mandate of the previous Government (April 2022) when the Ministry of Education, Science, Sport and Youth issued a licence for these two secondary religious schools. Answering questions from media, the Ministry explained that word is not about religious schools, except in their names, but about private schools whose founders are eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with educational programs for general secondary schools and without educational subjects from the domain of religious studies and philosophy of religion (See Vijesti).

Questions
Former minister of education and science (2003-2008), member of the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts Slobodan Backović was wondering in the author’s text for the portal Antena M : "The school is religious, and it runs a general secondary school program ? Very illogical.” He asked several questions : “If the school is religious, where are the religious subjects and contents in the general secondary school program ?” ; “Was the religious school program approved and when ?” ; “Is the educational staff provided ?” ; “Is adequate space, teaching aids, etc. provided ?” ; “Are funds provided for establishment and operation ?”
Namely, in accordance with the General Law on Education and Training, the school can start operating when the Ministry determines that it meets the conditions for establishment and issues a decision on licensing : see Conditions for establishment, Article 46.

The Law further requires : see Financial guarantees, Article 46a.

The founder of a private institution is obliged to submit, in addition to proof of the fulfilment of the requirements from Article 46 of this law, proof of the paid founding fee for a period of three years to the account of a commercial bank or a guarantee from a commercial bank that financial resources have been provided to the extent of the necessary funds for the implementation of the educational program.
Proof of the paid founding role or commercial bank guarantee from paragraph 1 of this article will be activated in the event that the founder makes a decision to terminate or stop the operation of the institution before the completion of the student’s education according to the educational program, at the request of the state administration body responsible for budget affairs.
The founding contribution, i.e. the funds required for the implementation of the educational program from paragraph 1 of this article, are calculated in relation to the cost of educating students for a specific educational program and the number of students for which a license is requested.
Exceptionally from paragraph 3 of this article, the amount of the founding role, i.e. the funds required for the realisation of the educational program of preschool education and education and the adult education program is determined by the Ministry, by a special act, based on the cost of education of the child, i.e. of the participants for a certain educational program, i.e. the education program and the number of children , that is, the student for whom a license is requested.
The funds from paragraph 2 of this article will be used to complete the student’s education.
Backović asked the Ministry can it publish the license and evidence that all conditions prescribed by the Law have been met and stated : “In the rush to comply with the school founder’s request, it seems that illegal decisions were made for which someone should be held responsible. The license decision does not even state who applied for the establishment of these private religious secondary schools. Why is it hidden when it is clear to everyone from the names of the schools who submitted the request ?” Finally, he stressed that against the decision on licensing an administrative dispute should be initiated due to non-fulfilment of the conditions prescribed in the Law (See Antena M).

Answers
Indirect, partial answers to those questions could be found precisely in the two information of the new Ministry of Education on financing of the two schools, endorsed by the Government on September 29th. The Ministry informed the Government that the two secondary schools addressed it with the request for financing in accordance to the Article 139 paragraph 3 of the General Law on Education and Training : see Conditions for financing a private institution, Article 139.

It is obvious that the regime of financing of secondary religious schools (which carry out publicly valid educational programs) is not based on provision related to private schools, but on the previous article, related to public schools : see Method of financing, Article 138.

The Ministry further simply states that the schools possess licences for work, elaborating that the approval of the educational program of those schools was not needed, since they did not create their own programmes, but accepted the publicly valid program from 2016, approved by the National Council for Education. Thus, the question of the validity of licensing remained unanswered.
It is evident that the Ministry construed the Law in a way that it based its decision to finance the two religious secondary schools as public schools from Article 138, using the method of their financing through administrative contract from Article 139.
Finally, the Ministry explained that this kind of financing „is foreseen by the Law on the Budget for 2022, within the ’support to religious schools’ program.“

Accusations
Backović reacted in the author’s text for Portal Analitika that the Governmental decision to accept this information and finance those schools “can be said to be shameful and criminal” : “Because in the founding act of the religious school ’St. Sava’, the Metropolitenate as the founder states that : ’funds for the establishment and operation of the Gymnasium are provided by the founder’ ; schools do not meet the conditions for work stipulated by the Law ; schools do not have school buildings at the addresses from the founding documents (…) they did not enrol students (there was no public competition) ; there are no employed professors ; there is no decision that educational programs for schools have been determined by the National Council, so that the educational program for those schools would become public and thus the schools would acquire the right to issue public documents (whether these schools will issue diplomas as religious schools or as gymnasiums, given that the Ministry claims that schools will work according to educational programs where there are no religious subjects ?) ; there is no evidence of deposited financial resources necessary for the operation of the school.”
For him, the school licensing commission committed a criminal offence, as these "phantom" schools exist only on paper. Backović quoted Minister for Education, who, when asked at the Governmental session whether there will be religious subjects in the educational programs of these religious schools, answered : “There probably will be.” Former minister concluded that “all the events surrounding religious Serbian Orthodox Church schools indicate that it is a well-organized group that uses fraud to circumvent the laws of Montenegro”.

Initiative
For the Center for Civic Education (CCE) also, the Minister of education is entering the zone of criminal and misdemeanour responsibility. CCE sent the initiative for reviewing the legality of licensing and withdrawing requests for financing of the two schools from the Budget to the Ministry of Education.
From their point of view, these schools cannot start operating until the procedure for reviewing illegally issued licenses is initiated, as well as the re-procedure for their issuance, which entails precise procedures : “Until then, any action taken by the Ministry based on currently illegal decisions on the licensing of the above-mentioned institutions makes the Minister and the Ministry complicit in breaking the law," concluded the Center for Civic Education (See Vijesti).

D 10 octobre 2022    ANikola B. Šaranović

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