Source: The education power struggle is on

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Source: The education power struggle is on

Only days after the June 2 local elections, a power struggle between Seoul’s left-leaning education chief-elect and conservative education officials has emerged on the horizon.

According to sources within the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education yesterday, shortly after his election, Seoul Education Superintendent Kwak No-hyun asked that the supplementary budget planning session be postponed until July 1, when he officially starts his four-year term, so that he can be involved in budget planning. The Seoul Metropolitan Board of Education is scheduled to confirm the supplementary budget, pegged at around 600 billion won ($485.8 million), by the end of this month.

The supplementary budget covers education policies to be implemented in the second half of the year. Some experts say that once the plan is approved, it will significantly reduce Kwak’s ability to influence policies.

The education office initially appeared to go along with the request, but shortly thereafter rejected it, the sources said. The flip-flop reportedly came after the education office called an emergency meeting Saturday and sent a letter to the education board to delay the budget planning session. After the letter went out, the sources said the office changed its stance and sent a second letter revoking that request.

Officials said Saturday’s letter was just an administrative mistake and the office wanted to proceed as originally planned.

“The supplementary budget planning was actually scheduled to be completed in March or April, but it was pushed back because of the local elections,” one official said. “We have some areas in which additional budget spending is urgently needed and we’re afraid a delay in approval will keep us from implementing those urgent items” - such as providing retirement allowances for around 700 teachers set to retire in August.

But some experts speculated that the office is just reluctant to give Kwak a say in planning the budget.

Since Kwak was elected, many experts have expressed concern about the chemistry between him and the conservative government. Kwak is the first superintendent to support the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, a progressive teachers’ group struggling with the incumbent conservative government.

One budget item Kwak may be interested in influencing is the schools’ free meal service. During his campaign, he pledged to provide free meals to every student from elementary school to high school.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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