Mailis Reps: a choirmaster cannot stand to be interrupted

Tuuli Koch
, reporter
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Photo: Postimehe kollaaž

Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Center Party) says that the depth of conflicts in the Georg Ots Tallinn Music School took her by surprise, and even though she holds Aarne Saluveer in high regard, it is impossible for him to stay on as principal in the long run. Further developments depend on an audit to be carried out at the school.

The conflict between employees of the Georg Ots school and its principal Aarne Saluveer of the past three or four years finally reached the public after 79 employees published a written vote of no confidence last week. However, you have remained silent on the issue as minister.

We are have adopted a wait-and-see position. We will hold off until the results of a broad-based audit to be held at the school are in.

What is it?

An internal audit – accountants, specialists will analyze documents. There have been several precepts, Saluveer has been warned. Documents from 2013 that have now been produced need to be analyzed by a committee made up of the ministry's internal and external audit specialists, accountants, lawyers. They will provide a bureaucratic, legal, as well as fundamental assessment of the situation.

However, to adopt a less official approach, what is your position as minister?

It was recently confirmed that we can build a new school, a school of fine arts that – provided everything goes according to plan – will open its doors on September 1, 2019. Therefore it is my proposal to solve this problem in the long run by holding a competition to find a new principal and merging the schools before they move into the same building physically.

The year 2019 is very far away considering the level of dissatisfaction among the school's employees. When will you choose the new principal?

In the coming months or even weeks. It is tradition for schools to have a new director half a year or eight months in advance, so they can pick their team, go over recent staff. And because the Tallinn Music High School and the Georg Ots Tallinn Music School share teachers, it is good if the new principal can go over their workload. Some of the things Aarne Saluveer has sought to reform are the right things; however, communication has been lacking.

Isn't it painful for you as minister to see and hear when such a large part of a school's staff wants to go in another direction?

It is, naturally. To be honest, I did not realize the problem was so serious. I have known Aarne Saluveer for years. I know his pros and cons, and the way things stand, there is no way he will stay on as principal. The question is whether we will dismiss him right away in connection with what the audit will find, whether he will resign himself, whether we can find a deputy, whether we will replace the principal in May or June – the plan to replace the principal is set in stone.

We discussed it at length this morning (yesterday – ed.) whether to find a new principal for the Georg Ots school or whether to look for the director of the new fine arts school. It seemed right to look at the longer perspective. Hiring someone to replace Saluveer simply to let them go ten months from now would not be fair.

What has Saluveer told you these past few days?

One moment he understands the staff's concerns, the other he is overcome by emotion.

Has he suggested that his resignation would perhaps be the least painful option in a situation where such a significant part of the staff has voiced lack of confidence?

Yes, he has. He has said that if you believe it is necessary for me to resign, I will.

So the ministry is holding him back?

No, not that. However, the ministry has said that it will hold an audit and look at the longer perspective. Saluveer has not filed a letter of resignation. He has said that he will leave should the ministry conclude he has broken the law. We are waiting for the audit.

He has been warned several times by the ministry?

“I will leave if that is what you want,” constitutes a very emotional sentence in Saluveer's case. At the same time, we cannot say he has not done a good job as a person of culture. He does, however, have certain shortcomings as a manager.

We could keep those two things separate: an inspiring musician, conductor, creator, but perhaps not a school principal of ten years?

Exactly. However, in the words of a person I had a conversation with a few days ago: a choirmaster cannot abide interruption lest the vocal score comes undone. That said, Aarne Saluveer has no future as a school principal, that much is clear.