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Future of Lebanon’s Catholic schools at risk under new salary rules

12 Oct 2018 – By Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — The future of Lebanon’s long-standing tradition of Catholic education is at risk because of a controversial law governing teacher salaries.

Salary increases for teachers in the private school sector are called for in a law that took effect in August 2017. As a new school year unfolds, school administrators are struggling with how to pay for the raises.

Of Lebanon’s more than 1 million students, 70 percent attend private schools, according to the country’s General Secretariat of Catholic Schools. About 20 percent of private school students attend Catholic schools.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, often has called the country’s private education system, particularly Catholic schools, “one of the pillars of Lebanon.”

While the law in question ordered new salary scales for workers in the public sector, it was also applied to private school teachers.

To pay for the public employee salary boost, the Lebanese government increased taxes. But the private schools were left with no mechanism by which to cover teachers’ raises.

Because they receive no financial support from the government, Lebanon’s Catholic schools — which are typically run by religious orders and are not parish schools — rely on tuition paid by the families of enrolled students.

The law requires private schools to raise the salaries of teachers without considering that families must pay the school fees, said Jesuit Father Charbel Batour, who serves on the executive committee of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools and is rector of College Notre-Dame de Jamhour, a Jesuit-run school founded in 1850.

“The law has been rushed, not well studied,” Father Batour told Catholic News Service.

So far, the increase of salaries “has not been applied fully because all the private schools of Lebanon are saying that the law somehow is contradictory and not fair,” he said.

“There is a sort of a general refusal of the law which led the majority of the private schools to give half of the increase but not the total because we are waiting for a solution that we hope will come from the parliament,” he explained.

Lelette Chaer, president of the teachers committee at the Jesuit school, told CNS that teachers welcomed the raise.

“In fact, they view it as a long overdue and much-needed adjustment to their salaries,” she said.

“The salary of a typical educator today is extremely limited to the point that it is no longer enough for him or her to meet the basic expenses of a decent life, let alone raise a family in today’s economy,” Chaer explained.

“On the other hand, the teachers realize the need to keep tuitions at a reasonable rate not simply as not to affect enrollment but also because teachers are mindful of economic conditions in the country and the limited capabilities of parents to keep up with the rising cost of living,” she said. “Having said that, tuitions have been raised by schools on a regular basis, but mainly for administrative purposes and infrastructure maintenance.”

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