Parents cross swords with local leaders

Nils Niitra
, reporter
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Photo: Kristjan Teedema

In Karula Parish, South-East Estonia, a whopping near-doubling of basic school pupils has occurred during these past five years. To keep the miracle going, active parents stand in unyielding confrontation with local council and government. 

The «Kool kogukonnale» (School for Community) protest action is professional, complete with press release. Next week, kids will be withdrawn for two days and put into a project school temporarily created for the purpose. Protests are pending.

The abundance of children in the beautiful area is largely due to the new settlers, or locals who have returned. These are young people, mostly with higher education and entrepreneurial in many ways.

With the parish leaders, they got along just fine till last spring when the powers got rid of the popular school headmaster Tiit Lepp who had made the tiny country school thrive. A guy too active for the powers, they ditched him on technicalities, say the parents.

School going under

After that, attempts to find a fresh director have repeatedly failed. Rudo Lilleleht, for instance is acting headmaster for over half a year. What the parish elders have feared and avoided, however, is a public contest for the post.   

Meanwhile, the community says the school has gone into decline.

Now at long last the powers have promised a public contest. The parents demanded a greater say in, with two from parish, two teachers and two parents in the jury. The powers said no – it’d be three for parish government and council, and teachers and parents both one. At that, the community kicked into action.

«It’s preparations stage right now, until the information is spreading. On Monday and Tuesday, we have alternative school,» says Liilia Tali, a mother of five.

Of the 75 pupils in the school, a couple of dozen will be in the alternative. As kindergarten is included, the institution will miss 30–40 kids for two days.

Afraid of an active headmaster, «they want a guy easily manipulated from parish government,» said Ms Tali to explain the essence of the conflict.

The petition was signed by 23 people. Ms Tali says they largely moved here because for the school. She says the people have a thousand ideas to carry out but the parish opts to block – out of love for the comfort zone the community feels.

Parish begs to differ

Acting headmaster Rudo Lilleleht says they are unwilling to alter the composition of the committee to elect headmaster as «those appointed by law to answer for the school should have a greater say.»

Mr Lilleleht claims the community has harboured the idea of a community school but as state does not want to finance private schools the parents are unwilling to invest. «Rather, they will take over existing schools.»

The administrative reform adds fuel to the fire. «Council decided to look towards Valga, and not Antsla as is in the heart of this bunch,» said the acting director.

Among other things, protesters find fault with lack of desire in parish to invest in the school. They point to the zero written in development plan for next four years. Mr Lilleleht counters that this year it reads €50,000.

A rare supporter of community in the Karula council is Henno Peegel, a long time local.

«After the last headmaster and authorities were no longer able to solve the problems and the headmaster left, things begun to go downhill at the school,» he said. «In any parish, some people shun the limelight. And then we have the bunch who have come to live here with a clear goal, including the good school.»