- January 7, 2014
A “holy cow” from Werusowo, or the anatomy of hypocrisy
The discrimination against the Polish community in Lithuania has been an inherent element of this country’s politics for the past 23 years of its existence.
Throughout these years, the Vilnius region has become the place where the law functions depending on political needs. In today’s issue of “Kurier”, we have published the vice mayor of the Vilnius region, Gabriel Jan Mincewicz’s article entitled “A holy cow from Werusowo, or the anatomy of hypocrisy”. The detailed analysis of practicing such politics has been presented there. In 2010, the Vilnius District Municipality, executing the legislation passed by the Seimas of the Lithuanian Republic, undertook to reorganize 14 small village school. This was a difficult task. After four years of judicial struggle, it became evident that some are allowed more than others in Lithuania.
The Editorial Board
The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, as well as self-governments in the sub-Vilnius area, strove for the preservation of small village schools for the inhabitants and their children’s convenience. All of this within reason and financial possibilities. In the period of population decline (decrease in the birth rate, emigration of families) some schools became deserted and their maintenance turned out to be pointless. A school in Werusowo serves as an appropriate example. In 2010, classes from I to IV numbered about 1-2 pupils each. There worked 17 teachers and support staff. Taking into account the fact that the maintenance of one student cost 6 719 Lt per year, with 3 310 Lt of ministerial financial allocation, the situation was serious. Today, it does not look any better.
Especially that on 10th December 2009, the Seimas passed Act XI-563. It introduced a prohibition on transferring so-called “basket resources” from larger schools to smaller ones, even if the latter were in desperate need of money. While arriving at the decision, the Seimas did not pay any attention to numerous protests by small schools and faculties of education. This Law was the death sentence for small schools, and particularly for their autonomy. The situation was further aggravated by another decision taken by the government in 2009. The decision was connected with the existing crisis. It concerned the reduction of the “basket” fund for the Vilnius region by 2 million 608 thousand Lt. (1)
The only possibility of small schools salvation was their formal affiliation to bigger educational institutions. In this way, they could share their “basket”. They decided to go that way. On 9th April 2010, the municipal council passed Resolution No. T3-88 on reorganization of the fourteen small schools threatened with “death from starvation”. The council did it in accordance with the binding Acts of the Seimas and Resolutions of the government (I shall enumerate them later on). As it is stated in the court ruling (2), a representative of the government present at the meeting did not raise any objections to the decision neither during the session, nor afterwards. This, again, attests to its being passed in conformity with the applicable legal norms.
The next step was also in accordance with the procedural requirements. On 23rd June 2010, the municipal council adopted Resolution No. T3-207 on “Reorganization and reconstruction of internal structure of some educational institutions of the Vilnius region”. It postulated the change of the abovementioned fourteen schools’ status, which was to be introduced on 1st September 2010. Although these schools ceased to be independent and were officially becoming affiliated with larger schools (high schools, in most cases), their location did not change. In fact, the buildings and the teachers remained the same. The formal situation had to be adjusted to the amended legal provisions concerning the “basket”.
In the remaining 13 schools, the reorganization was peaceful. Only the director of the Werusowo school, Dalia Peciūnienė, wanted to remain in charge of an independent and unaffiliated school at all costs. She immediately started to act, drawing not only on her own great ambitions, but apparently supported by the highest authorities. Did this school possess any advantages apart from the director’s ambitions? It was one of the smallest schools subjected to the reorganization. But it gained its notoriety for being completely disorganized. Here is an example.
It is known that the self-government duly makes regular inspections of all the educational institutions in the region. During one of such due inspections, a commission of four persons detected a host of unpardonable violations at the Werusowo school. The commission recorded the contraventions noticed on 22nd September 2010 in its report. So, on the basis of Decision No. M22-18 by the mayor of the Vilnius District Municipality, a commission of 11 persons was created. It consisted of educational staff, councilors, members of the municipal council committee on education, lawyers, economists, and other qualified people, with the vice-mayor, G.J.Mincewicz, at the head. The report from 27th September 2010 (3) contains their observations.
1. The fact that two five-year-olds were enrolled in a playschool without the pedagogical and psychological certification was found to be a violation of existing regulations. (4)
2. A child who was enrolled in the kindergarten in the previous year, has been admitted to the same group again, in the current year.(5)
3. A child who does not speak at all requires help of a special pedagogue, a speech therapist and a psychologist.(6)
4. One girl categorically refuses to participate in the lessons of her own class, but she is constantly present in the class of her older brother.
5. One girl, after finishing the first grade last year, has been again admitted to the same grade. (7)
6. One student has been left in the first grade for another year, which definitely goes against the law. (8) The minutes of a staff meeting were not taken, the meeting that would concern the reasons underlying his falling behind with the curriculum and that would assign some compensatory classes for him. Two false applications of his “father” were found. They were signed by two different people.
7. Nobody from this school knows, nor has ever seen Jonas Kačerauskas, who is listed as a student in the register. It has turned out that he remains in one of the sanatoriums in Druskienniki. However, this fact has been omitted in the school documentation.
On 28th September 2010, a commission of three visited the houses of two pupils, who – according to the school register – regularly attended the classes. The assumptions were confirmed: the parents made a written declaration that both children had been at school only once, when the commission had been inspecting the school… A teacher had come and persuaded their parents to bring the children to school this one time. It is worth mentioning that their houses are located within several kilometers from Werusowo, and that there are other educational institutions (in Sużany). These schools are closer to the children’s places, and they are to attend them. So the two are yet another “dead souls” in the class register.
After discovering disorganization on such a large scale, Lucyna Kotłowska, the administrative director of the Vilnius District Municipality, demanded that the director of the school, Dalia Peciūnienė, give an explanation. She also reprimanded director Peciūnienė. (9)
And what has become of this? From the very beginning, I supposed it would not be possible for director Peciūnienė to cheat in a similar manner without a sense of total impunity, without the support of “high patrons”. It was enough for her to produce a paper and shamelessly address the court, and the Lithuanian Temida covered her eyes and ears with a blindfold – the court revoked the reprimand.
However, let us now consider the issue of litigation concerning the school’s reorganization. After the municipal council passed the resolution on reorganization, Peciūnienė wrote a complaint to the court. She wrote, among others, that the school is the best in Europe. The court of first instance (district court) explained to her that even if the school was “the best in the whole world”, it would be of no legal importance. The decision concerning the reorganization was made on the basis of the Act on Education (10), the Law on Local Self-Government (11), and the Civil Code (12). The reorganization is implemented methodically, according to the instructions resulting from the ministerial provisions in force. After hearing the case, the Regional Administrative Court chaired by Judge Henrikas Sadauskas, came to the conclusion that the self-government was not guilty of any violations. In its judgement, the court decided that: THE COMPLAINT OF THE SCHOOL FROM WERUSOWO IS TO BE REJECTED AS UNFOUNDED. (13)
But Peciūnienė was so certain that her acts would be supported that this was not the end. She filed another complaint, this time concerning the allegation that reorganization has not been agreed upon with the school community. She argued that the institution was going to be closed down, and that the parents would be forced to drive their children to school, to cover the distance of several dozen kilometers. The court of appeal was examining the case for the entire year. There were numerous additional sessions concerning it. In the end, what the court established was that the school was not going to be liquidated, but reorganized. After the reorganization, the Werusowo branch was going to be part of a middle school. This would raise the school’s status. The statement that the reorganization was not agreed upon with the school community goes against the truth. On 25th January 2010, and on 24th February 2010, a group of educational workers, together with Lilia Andruszkiewicz, the head of the Department of Education, visited the school in Werusowo. The group led by the vice-mayor, G. J. Mincewicz, discussed the issue with the school community in detail. Moreover, the law’s precedence is in operation here. (14) The court interpreted also numerous different charges. In the end, after thorough examination, the court of appeal chaired by Rosita Patackienė arrived at what follows:
(The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania ruled that if the self-government was able to allocate so much money to this school, it can continue doing it. Fot. Marian Paluszkiewicz)
“After thorough examination, it became obvious that the complaint is non-motivated and unfounded. The facts mentioned confirm that the self-government Resolution No. T3-207 does not go against any legislative act. What is more, the applicant’s baseless arguments attest to her desperate attempts at preventing the school’s reorganization.”(15) The court of appeal’s ruling reads: THE COMPLAINT OF THE SCHOOL FROM WERUSOWO IS TO BE REJECTED AS UNFOUNDED. It seems that Pociūnienė, convinced of her “patrons’ ” presence in the Supreme Court, decided to write to the Supreme Administrative Court. Apparently, the Supreme Administrative Court was not satisfied with such turn of events. Chaired by Laimė Baltrūnaitė, it devoted 8 months to the examination of the case. It demanded provision of the evidence supporting the school’s financial self-sufficiency. In its ruling, it commanded that the Regional Court should REVIEW THE CASE. (16) Both throughout the investigation, and in her interviews for the press and television, Pociūnienė maintained that the school did not need the “basket”, that it was perfectly self-sufficient. “The school has not had any financial trouble for a good few years. It is able to support itself” – she said in an interview with a journalist from “Vilniaus diena” (17).
The school in fact does not have financial problems, but only thanks to the self-government’s help. It acts like a caring mother does, constantly feeding her capricious child to prevent its starvation. But, of course, she does that at other children’s expense. We read about this school’s “self-sufficiency” in the court data presented here. The deficit of “basket money” (above all, in covering the costs of garages for teachers) was estimated in the successive years to have reached: in 2007 — 58,5 thousand, in 2008 – 64,3 thousand, in 2009 – 29,3 thousand, and in 2010 – 60,0 thousand. In the language of legislation, the lack of money in this school is „systematic and constant”, which is one of the provisions justifying reorganization.(18) Also in the court material, we read that the self-government would devote considerable sums of money to satisfy this small school’s needs. For the past 4 years (between 2007 and 2010), it allocated jointly 503,1 thousand Lt from its own budget for the school in Werusowo. (19)
Has this changed after 2010? Further deficits in “basket money” look as follows: in 2011 – 49,1 thousand, in 2012 – 8,1 thousand, in 2013 – 13,4 thousand. From the data provided by the self-government, it transpires that the situation was even worse in the next years. Only throughout the next 3 years (between 2011 and 2013) the self-government allocated 483,9 thousand Lt for different needs of this school, apart from the “basket money”, which amounted to 70,6 thousand. All in all, it received 554,5 thousand. 1057,6 thousand Lt, so more than a million, was allotted for the school throughout 7 years.
Is the director’s claim true? Does the school have perspectives? Is the number of students growing? At the time of reorganization in 2010, classes from I to IV numbered together 13 students. Today, there are 11 of them. In 2010, in the Lithuanian playgroup, there were 5 children. But after one year, only 2 of them began the first grade. The first grade numbered 2 students also in 2012. About ten children cost millions. And all of this at the expense of other needs of the regional inhabitants, including building new kindergartens for several dozen children. But who cares! The “European” school with its “European” director and ten “child prodigies” (you can learn how “ingenious” they really are from the perusal of the beginning of this article) – they are worth their price. Even if it means not catering to other needs. The reason behind all of this is simple – to realize Pociūnienė’s wish of remaining the director.
During the discussions on the topic of reorganization, we sent a letter to the Minister of Education. In the letter, we asked him whether the self-government’s decision to reorganize the school had been right. In his response, Minister Gintaras Steponavičius writes: “It is not rational for the headmaster of the school with 17 children to work half-time.”
According to ministerial specialists, the municipal council’s decision to reorganize the elementary school in Werusowo (…) would allow for the more efficient use of student “basket money”, without a negative impact on the students’ education. After additional 8 months of investigation, the Regional Court (each time appearing in a different composition, this time chaired by Judge Arūnas Kaminskas) returned a verdict. For the third time, it stated the thing obvious from the very beginning: THE COMPLAINT OF THE SCHOOL FROM WERUSOWO IS TO BE REJECTED AS UNFOUNDED.
However, the Supreme Court was clearly disappointed at such turn of events. Let me remind you briefly that when the municipal council adopted the Resolution on Reorganization on 23rd June 2010, there were already people intent on preventing it. A separate complaint was hurriedly prepared. Right after receiving the complaint on 21st June 2010, the Supreme Court decided to appoint the date for the trial on… 23rd June 2010. At the same time, it presented the self-government with a demand to prepare its response to the new complaint within less than twenty-four hours: by 2 PM on 22nd June 2010. Although 14 days is the usual time limit for the preparation of one’s response, the proclamation was issued.
At 9 AM on 23rd June 2010, the Supreme Court urgently assembled and at once arrived at a decision covering 6 pages. Its verdict was to leave out the question of reorganization from the municipal council’s meeting later that day. After 10 AM, already during the municipal council’s session, somebody from the Werusowo school appeared. They brought and threw an unregistered piece of paper in front of the chairwoman. The municipal council had no right to violate the regulations, according to which questions tabled during the council session are to be made available to all the councilors before, next they should be discussed at each committee meeting. Only then they shall be examined during a plenary session. The “circus” served by the Supreme Court is assessed in the court materials as follows:
“The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania from 21st June 2010, makes it explicit that the meeting to examine the separate complaint was appointed on 23rd June 2010, 9 AM. It means that the meeting began at 9 AM, while its verdict consisted of 6 pages. The question which arises naturally is: how is this possible to arrive at the decision, and write down 6 pages, right at the beginning of the session? After all, according to Article 109 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, as well as Article 5 of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Courts, and Article 21 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania, judges and courts are independent and impartial. A court, inter alia, cannot be predisposed to close a given case”. (21)
After all of this happened, the Supreme Court “became nervous, really and extremely” (as a song goes), and took the law into its own hands. It was desperate to finish the case in its own way, in spite of everything. The session was to take place on 13th November 2013. There was quite a commotion in the press and television, whose aim was to put pressure on the approaching trial. The day before the session, a rally was held. Not only activists and supporters of famous “Vilnija”, “Rytas”, etc. took part in the meeting, but also members of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania (Mantas Adomėnas, MP, made a speech during the rally) did. Afterwards, how could the court decision be any different?
The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania ruled that if the self-government had been able to allocate so much money to this school on a regular basis, it should continue doing it. It is going to happen at the expense of many other schools and numerous wronged children, but it does not matter. The fact that thirteen other schools, similar to this in Werusowo, have been reorganized, is also of no importance. The court chaired by Judge Anatolijus Baranovas stated: THE DECISION OF THE VILNIUS DISTRICT SELF-GOVERNMENT, CONCERNING THE SCHOOL IN WERUSOWO, IS TO BE DISMISSED. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO APPEAL AGAINST THE JUDGEMENT. (22)
And this is final.
G. J. Mincewicz, PhD
Vice Mayor of the Vilnius region
1. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania on 03.12.2013, p.14.
2. The decision of the Regional Administrative Court on 18.11.2010, p.3.
3. The findings concerning the elementary school in Werusowo. Register number A38-1121, on 28.09.2010.
4. The Minister of Education and Science’s order No. ISAK-1180, on 22.06.2005, p. 4.
5. Ibid. p. 6.
6. The Pedagogical and Psychological Service’s certification No. PR-10/44, on 15.09.2010.
7. The Minister of Education and Science’s order No. ISAK-556, on 05.04.2005. p. 18.
8. Ibid. p.6.
9. The director of administration’s order No. A28-344, on 27.10.2010.
10. Act on Education No. IX-2292, art. 44 p. 1, art. 59 p. 4.
11. The Law on Local Self-Government, art. 7 p. 1, art. 17 p. 28.
12. The Civil Code, art. 2.96 p. 1.
13. The decision of the Regional Court,18.11.2010, p. 10.
14. The decision of the Regional Court, 15.12.2011, p. 7, 8, 10, 14.
15. Ibid. p. 10.
16. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, 13.08.2012, p.15.
17. Indrė Pepcevičiūtė. Rajono valdžia taupo naikindama lietuvybę Vilniaus diena,14.11.2013, p. 2.
18. Government Resolution No. 746 “On authorization of the criteria concerning reorganization and liquidation of schools”, p. 8. 1.
19. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, 03.12.2013, p.6.
20. G. Steponavičius. On reorganization of self-governmental networks of schools. 24-03-R-8136, 02.11.2010.
21. The decision of the Regional Court, 15.12.2011, p. 7.
22. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court, 03.12.2013, p. 19.
Tłumaczenie by Agata Weronika Chrobak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agata Weronika Chrobak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.