As we know only too well, teachers’ salaries are extremely low in Hungary and teachers haven’t had a raise since the 2008 financial crisis. Given the fairly high inflation rate, at least until recently, the already very low living standards of teachers have further deteriorated in the last five years.
For some time it looked as if the Orbán government had no intention of raising salaries this year. Undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann kept promising the raise, but the date kept getting pushed out. Eventually, it seems, the Fidesz politicos came to the conclusion that something must give, especially since the election is less than a year away.
The Orbán government had already mandated an increase in teacher work loads. They raised the number of classes teachers have to give each week. When not actually teaching, teachers from here on will have to remain within the walls of the schools for at kleast 32 hours and do whatever the principal asks them to do. And, in addition, the government insisted that if there is a salary raise the practice of paying extra for teaching classes over and above the compulsory work load must come to an end.
The long, complicated negotiations over salaries split the two teachers’ unions. But now even the more pliant Mrs. István Galló concedes that, although some teachers will do better than before, the majority will see mighty few benefits from the promised salary raise. Mrs. Galló, however, felt that her union had no choice but to reach an agreement with the government because otherwise even those few benefits wouldn’t have materialized. She was convinced that she couldn’t credibly threaten the government with a general teachers’ strike. Teachers are so worried about their jobs that they will settle for very little as opposed to nothing.
According to the final settlement, the raise will be given out gradually between September 1 of this year and 2017. Zoltán Balog promised that come September the teachers will receive 60% of the full amount. That would mean, he claimed, a 34% raise on average.
But then some investigative reporters began scrutinizing leaked documents and came to the conclusion that the numbers didn’t add up, that another 7 billion forints was necessary to reach the 60% figure in September. They concluded that the most the government is planning to give in September is only 50% of the total amount promised.
A few days later Népszava received a leaked document in which they found an 11 billion forint gap between the ostensibly negotiated raise and the actual figures that will appear as a budget item. They came to the conclusion that the government is planning to let several thousand teachers go over and above those who have already been barred from teaching because they either reached or are over the compulsory retirement age of 65. Naturally, the Ministry of Human Resources announced today that not a word of this speculation is true and that “the government counts on the work of teachers who are employees of the state at the moment.”
I myself have no idea how much more money teachers will get from September 1 on. One thing the teachers are already sure of–there will be great disparities in pay. As for the children, they will spend a lot more time in school. So will the teachers. From here on they will have to spend 32 hours in the school itself, during which they will be obliged to teach if necessary. Without additional compensation. So, in the end the salaries might be higher but the amount of work will also be greater. If a teacher until now had to teach only 22 hours and will have to teach 26 hours (and possibly 32), the raise, viewed as forints per hour, might not be much of a raise at all.
Admittedly, there’s a fair amount of fat in the Hungarian educational system. It’s inefficient, and deleterious to educational attainment, to have a school in every village instead of busing kids to regional schools. And having an average class size of 13-14 students in Budapest schools is a real luxury. For instance, in Westport, CT, which is one of the wealthiest communities in the state with a median family income of around $200,000 and a school system to match, the average class size is 21. Admittedly, not all Hungarian schools have such a high teacher: student ratio as the ones in Budapest. I checked out Viktor Orbán’s old high school in Székesfehérvár and found that the average class size there is about 35. Apparently, class size can be adjusted “according to need.”
But not properly compensating teachers may be counterproductive. Thanks to Rózsa Hoffmann, teacher education falls outside of the by now generally accepted Bologna system. It is a six-year course of study. How many bright 18-year-olds would want to commit themselves to paying high tuition fees for six years only to end up in a career that pays miserably and carries little prestige? And that, by the by, doesn’t port well if they decide to leave the country.