28 august 2009

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting on the preparation of educational establishments for the new academic year

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting on the preparation of educational establishments for the new academic year

“We should pay particular attention to the overall safety of students. This includes anti-terrorist and fire-prevention measures, observance of sanitary standards, and safety on the roads and in transport.”

The transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

Today, a few days before the start of a new academic year, we will consider the general readiness of educational establishments for the new academic year, beginning on September 1. We will also hear reports from representatives of federal agencies and some regions.

But in the beginning I would like to inform you of a number of new decisions that directly bear on the educational sphere.

First. As you know, the Federation now issues subsidies to the regions to pay remuneration to form teachers. To begin with, we decided to keep these subsidies and therefore these payments. But such a factor as differentials for length of service in the Far North and other areas with special climatic conditions was not taken into account until now when determining the size of these subsidies.

As a result, the missing difference was at best compensated out of regional budgets or was not paid at all. We will rectify this injustice. The regions will begin receiving in full the federal funds set aside for remunerating form teachers, with full account taken of so-called "northern hardship" bonuses.

All this, I would like to remind you, must be the responsibility of the regions. But, we provide for such a measure bearing in mind the practice of previous years and the crisis conditions of this year.

The second decision concerns the ongoing experiment when the state supports the system of educational loans for students of higher educational establishments. Students showing good progress can now enjoy a number of privileges. One is the deferment of payments on the principal sum of the loan for the entire period of tuition at college or university.

The state also plans to subsidise the interest rate on educational loans at three quarters of the Central Bank's refinancing rate.

Also, there will be no such requirements to the borrower as collateral or surety. Finally, with the help of the federal budget we will indemnify the banks taking part in the experiment for their possible losses in the event these loans are not repaid.

Yesterday I also signed an executive order to award prizes of the Government of the Russian Federation in education for 2009. A total of 140 people were recommended for this prize. They include teachers and authors of educational aids, and developers of innovatory educational programmes for schools, colleges and universities.

We will as before support those who creatively, with enthusiasm and full dedication work in such a significant and crucial sphere as education.

And now let us consider the main item on today's agenda.

As I already said, we must consider the key aspects of the preparedness of educational institutions and all related services for the start of the school year. As the reports from the regions show, preliminaries are being completed on time in most regions.

Nevertheless, as of the end of August, several constituent entities are lagging behind.

For your information, as of August 26, the regions with the least-prepared educational institutions for the new school year were the Sverdlovsk region (76%), the Buryatia and Komi republics (81%) and the Kamchatka (74%) and Trans-Baikal (81%) territories.

I invited the leaders of these regions to this meeting and I'm asking you now to report what measures are being taken to rectify the current situation.

Next, we should pay particular attention to the overall safety of students. This includes anti-terrorist and fire-prevention measures, observance of sanitary standards, and safety on the roads and in transport."

In the last two years, we allocated 24 billion roubles for fire-prevention measures. This included bringing the share of schools equipped with fire alarms up to 80%. As a result, the number of fires reduced by 55%.

The implementation of the programme to improve traffic safety continues.

I would like to draw special attention to the condition of school buses. I hold that both regional and local authorities need to monitor more closely the technical condition of vehicles and the qualifications and health of drivers, even more so since there are positive examples of such work in several regions which have led to a reduction in road accidents involving students.

And now I would like to address one more important subject. Only in the past year financing of general education increased by 120 billion roubles. The total funds allocated for the purpose were 738 billion roubles.

The Ministry of Regional Development conducted a survey of how efficiently these funds were being used. The picture is far from ideal. According to analysis' estimates, the share of inefficient spending is around 19%. In terms of the total amount, this is 140 billion roubles. To give you an example, with this amount of money the salaries of teachers and educational administrators could be raised immediately by 25%. Or 300 new schools could be built with this money.

The highest figure was 52.6% in the Irkutsk region.

I consider it necessary to expedite the transition to regulated per-capita financing, as well as to a result-oriented payroll system that offers incentives for the best teachers.

I draw your attention to the fact that 14 regions have not even started to introduce the principle of regulated per-capita financing.

I am confident that when we look for the reasons that schools are so poorly prepared for the new academic year, it is necessary to first look at the efficiency of budget funds spending, to look at how priorities are set in each specific region and where the money went.

In 2008, and even the crisis year 2009, spending on public administration continues to increase in Russia's regions. According to data from 2008, the share of inefficient spending associated with maintaining administrative personnel has reached 34%.

There is an unjustified increase in the number of bureaucrats and progress in restructuring the budgetary network is weak. Citizens in most regions are dissatisfied with the quality of public services, including those in education. More than 30% of respondents indicate that work in this field is unsatisfactory. All of this should be serious food for thought for authorities at all levels.

And now let's start the discussion. I give the floor to Andrei Fursenko, the Minister of Education and Science.

Andrei Fursenko: Thank you. Mr. Putin, and my colleagues, let me say a few words about Russia's current educational system. We have more than 53,000 general education schools, over 5,500 primary and secondary vocational schools, and about 1,300 colleges and universities.

The demographic decline continues, and, hence, the number of students is decreasing at every level. Thus, this year the number of students in schools has decreased by 340,000 in comparison to the previous year, and for the first time will be below 13 million - 12,960,000.

There is a positive change as well. As compared with the past year, 150,000 more first graders will go to school. Changes started in 2007, and there was a small growth of about 20,000 in two years. This year, the number of first graders has increased significantly for the first time. We predict this trend will continue.

The number of students at all levels - primary, secondary, and vocational - is going down. For the first time in 15 years, we have fewer students in colleges and universities, which is also due to the demographic decline.

As of August 25, the primary, vocational, secondary, and higher educational institutions are 97% ready for the new academic year. Together with the Emergencies Ministry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Federal Security Service we are focusing on enhancing fire safety and anti-terrorist measures in educational institutions, including vocational schools.

However, we have certainly been paying special attention to schools before September 1. In 2009, preparations for the new academic year started on time. On May 26, 2009, the Government Commission on Preventing and Eliminating Emergencies and Ensuring Fire Safety met to discuss comprehensive security in educational institutions.

At that meeting, the commission drafted a set of measures aimed at adequate preparing for the new academic year. On July 25 and August 25, our ministry held a teleconference with the heads of the regional executive bodies in cooperation with our colleagues from the Emergencies Ministry, the Interior Ministry, Rosobrazovaniye (Federal Agency for Education), and Rospotrebnadzor (Agency for Health and Consumer Rights). On the 26th, we also held a teleconference chaired by Sergei Shoigu, the Emergencies Minister.

This year, we worked in accordance with the procedures elaborated by the commission on accepting educational institutions in the regions, which we had previously drafted with our colleagues from other ministries, including the Emergencies Ministry, the Interior Ministry, FSB, the Ministry of Regional Development, and the Finance Ministry. We have agreed upon uniform requirements. They have been enforced by relevant commissions in every region. As a result, this year the preparations for the new academic year have been going better than in the past, at least as far as we know.

These preparations have been or are being carried out in the majority of regions. You have mentioned the regions that have seriously fallen behind, but this was the case on August 25. To our knowledge, the situation has now been substantially improved.

About 190 new schools will open their doors on September 1. As of August 27, 794 schools are sill unfit for use. In 2005, that number was 2,500, and last year it was 960.

More than 2.5 billion roubles worth of subsidies have been allocated to the regions from the federal budget. These funds have been transferred to the regions. Co-financing by the regions amounted to 900 million roubles, and another 309 schools will be repaired using this money. Thus, the number of schools unfit for use will be reduced by more than a third in comparison to last year.

Final results on the readiness of general educational institutions for the new academic year will be reported to the Government on August 31, 2009. This concludes my report.

Vladimir Putin: Today is Friday. Will you have to rush to finish all the work over Saturday and Sunday?

Andrei Fursenko: Mr, Putin, this is not going to be a rushed job, but planned work. As for the preparations of schools, the instructions of Gospozhnadzor (Fire Supervision Department), and Rospotrebnadzor are now being carried out. This is not a rushed job, this is planned work. I'd say that this year it is going smoother than any time in the past.

Vladimir Putin: Okay then. Mr Shoigu, please go ahead.

Sergei Shoigu: Mr. Putin, colleagues. The Ministry of Emergency Situations is working to ensure the safety of educational institutions in several main areas. One of these areas was mentioned by Mr Fursenko. I'm referring to regular meetings of the Commission on Preventing and Eliminating Emergency Situations and Ensuring Fire Safety, at which we discuss issues related to ensuring the safety of schools and other educational institutions. The government commission naturally includes representatives from the ministries and agencies that are involved with this work.

The second area is no less important and we actually completed work on it last year. This is technical regulation. As of May 1 of this year, technical fire safety regulations took effect at educational institutions - an exhaustive list of fire-prevention measures. If before we had a total of 150,000 regulations that needed to be observed without fail, and many of them contradicted one another, then today, as of May 1, there are only 1,500 such regulations, i.e., 100 times fewer. This is an indicator that educational institutions are now able to observe them.

Also today, a proposal to further improve fire safety in schools is being prepared. Specifically, we are considering automated fire station notification at the initiation of a school's alarm or fire safety system.

The third area is the straightforward monitoring of educational institutions. Suffice it to say that there is a proposal, created during school year preparations, to eliminate more than 200,000 fire safety violations.

In order to curb the existing violations, about 1,800 cases of administrative suspension of school operations have been lodged with courts. More than 30,000 individuals and companies will have to bear administrative responsibility for that.

School preparedness inspections for the new school year are winding down. This inspection was conducted by 19,000 employees. As of August 25, 53,410 educational institutions - which is practically all of them - have been inspected. There are 1,823 schools that have yet to sign the certificate - this is 3% of the total.

In a number of constituent entities, low levels of preparedness have been recorded. Currently 14% of schools did not pass muster in the Republic of Altai. In the Bryansk region, this figure is 47% of schools.

In addition, for the first time this year, we are seeing local self-government leaders or school directors identifying facility shortcomings on their own. They aren't waiting for fire inspectors, but are identifying flaws related to fire safety standards and make decisions on closing such educational establishments on their own. Such educational institutions are being brought up to proper fire safety standards. Some of them will naturally be re-opened in mid-September or early October. All educational institutions have rather rigid schedules. At the same time, students may have to be temporarily transferred to other educational institutions. Such instances have been identified in 140 schools, but there are no obstacles to children starting school on September 1.

An important result of our work is the improved standards of fire protection in our schools. Accordingly, over several years, the number of educational institutions that do not meet fire safety requirements has decreased significantly. Compared to 2007, the number of schools not equipped with automatic fire alarm and notification systems has decreased by 70%, and existing violations of fire safety regulations have been reduced by 65%.

In the last five years, since 2004, the number of fires in schools, as you correctly mentioned, has dropped 55% and related deaths are down 80.4%. And we consider it a rather significant achievement that since 2005, there have been no student deaths at these facilities.

Certainly, we spend a lot of time on raising fire safety awareness. This has facilitated the trend in the last four years in Russia of a reduced number of fires due to children playing with fire. In absolute terms, only last year, there were 800 fewer cases of fires caused by the latter.

Certainly, we continue to work on monitoring and facilitating fire safety at educational facilities, and will continue such work until everything is right.

Thank you.

Gennady Onishchenko: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

Long before preparations for the upcoming academic year started - and they are traditionally carried out from June until September - all the required plans and tasks had been synchronised with the headmasters. A total of 570,000 tasks were set to be fulfilled by Russian schools.

I would like to tell you in more detail what has received special attention. First, it was necessary to provide educational institutions with teaching equipment and classroom furniture, which is critical for children's physical development; to purchase the required thermal processing and refrigeration equipment for food units, to provide cafeterias with necessary furniture; to do the landscaping and to renovate healthcare rooms.

In terms of sanitary legislation compliance, 83% of the tasks I have mentioned - a total of 570,000 tasks - have been fulfilled, with 94% of schools authorised to start work in the upcoming academic year. All regional commissions, operating under the leadership of top regional officials, will continue to inspect the schools in the remaining days.

This year we have paid special attention to healthcare room standards, bearing in mind the influence of the current epidemiological developments at the global and national level.

In 23,022 schools, or 42%, healthcare rooms comply with sanitary legislation requirements in terms of equipment. In 9,500 schools, or 17%, healthcare rooms do not comply with requirements; these are mainly old schools. However, we have found unique solutions in every case to ensure a school's optimal operation. In 38% of Russian schools, there are no healthcare rooms at all because the school buildings were not fitted for them; these schools are ungraded and are simply unable to have such healthcare rooms. This problem is resolved by outsourcing healthcare services from neighbouring healthcare establishments. This issue is a strategic task for us and the Ministry of Education and Science.

In terms of healthcare room equipment, the situation is the worst in the Kursk, Oryol, Bryansk and Omsk regions.

Vladimir Putin: You said the Kursk Region?

Gennady Onishchenko: Yes, the Kursk Region. And also in the Bryansk, Oryol, Omsk regions and so on. The situation is much better in metropolises, specifically in Moscow and St Petersburg. Good results have been achieved in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area, Kabardino-Balkaria and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area.

We have also paid special attention to kitchen equipment as part of the experiment that you initiated in the autumn of 2006 in the framework of the priority national project. We have received significant federal support for this programme. Last year, fourteen regions were involved in this experiment, with another seven regions joining in this year despite the financial challenges. These are Bashkortostan, Udmurtia, Mordovia, North Ossetia, as well as the Arkhangelsk, Samara and Omsk regions. They all qualified for this experiment, which suggests a systemic and comprehensive modernisation of school meal procurement, which is a foremost factor to preserve children's health.

As for kitchen equipment, 40% of kitchens fully comply in terms of sets of units and equipment.

In terms of the necessary technological equipment purchases, the situation leaves much to be desired. Necessary changes have not been made in the Trans-Baikal Territory. Also, this year the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Amur and Irkutsk regions have fallen somewhat behind on this issue.

In all, 27 regions have fulfilled commitments to purchase food unit equipment. I would like to stress that these are not the most wealthy regions. The Astrakhan, Kamchatka, Rostov, Tver and Kaliningrad regions have fulfilled their commitments on this issue in full.

Proper equipment allows cooking healthy food for children.

As for provision of schools with meals, the situation will improve a bit this year, which is not enough unfortunately: Up to 78.5% of school students will receive hot meals in full. I would like to offer some positive examples here: Several regions that in my opinion lack financial resources - but maybe I am mistaken - for example Buryatia and the Magadan Region, will not only ensure healthy food for school students but will offer meals enriched with vitamins and micronutrients, including iodated products. The Orenburg Region has increased its hot meal provision to 91%, despite this year's difficulties in its agriculture industry, namely the drought. Its example proves that given political will, the funds are provided.

As for equipping classrooms with furniture, there must be furniture of at least two or three different sizes in every classroom, and furniture of three sizes for senior school students. This is because children vary in age and physical development. This year 16,978 schools needed furniture. So far, 15,382 schools have purchased necessary amounts of it. Kalmykia, Ingushetia, Karachayevo-Circassia, Udmurtia, Khakassia, the Vladimir and Kostroma regions haven't fulfilled their commitments in full. I have to admit that in these regions students will sit on old chairs and at old tables.

I would like to touch on gyms with regard to the task of ensuring a healthy lifestyle. School building design and educational institution funding don't allow for having well-equipped gyms everywhere, but still...

In 37,876 schools, or 65%, gyms comply with all modern requirements. 8,408 schools, or 15%, have gyms, but they have design defects and other major restrictions. In 8,121 schools there are no gyms at all for the reasons I gave earlier.

Children will either play sports games outdoors in warm weather, or schools will rent halls, if possible. This is a major impediment to children's physical development.

This year's developments have changed the routine course of preparations. Children's vaccination against influenza was started a month early. Under a relevant national project, 6,600 million doses of children's vaccines are planned for production this year, with 2 million doses of vaccine shipped to regions already. This work is under way.

Junior school students and pre-school children are subject to vaccination. All children over three years old are to be vaccinated against influenza, with teachers vaccinated as well.

A number of European governments have been considering the possibility of postponing school opening dates, an idea suggested by the World Health Organisation, and others. I would like to emphasise that this year in Russia there are no reasons to postpone the opening of schools on September 1 in any region.

The only students that are subject to restrictions are those who return from trips abroad within seven days or less. For example, we expect a group of 200 children to return from Burgas in Bulgaria; these children's vacations were funded by the Ministry of the Interior. We have calculated with regional governments that a total of 7,000 students will return within seven days or less prior to September 1.

In our opinion, this measure is justified. Children are the most vulnerable group. 30 students out of the 280 children who went to the Black Sea on vacation were admitted to the hospital with A/H1/N1 flu. The most problematic destination was Great Britain, but we managed to resolve this issue.

This is where we stand. All in all, this year regions are better prepared for the academic year because the Government Commission on Emergency Prevention and Fire Safety made prudent use of administrative resource, which allowed for comprehensive measures to be implemented.

Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Onishchenko, how soon are you going to vaccinate children? Could you give me a percentage?

Gennady Onishchenko: Our schedule has already been approved. First of all, we have the so-called risk groups, 100% of which should be vaccinated. We have bought enough vaccine for 6.6 million people, which will provide for children from the age of three through the end of elementary school and seniors older than 60, for a total of 2.2 million people. This is seasonal vaccine.

Our national producers are currently conducting pre-clinical and clinical trials of a vaccine developed from the pandemic H1N1 virus, which we received as a vaccine stock culture through the international WHO network. We will test the vaccine and begin production in October.

At the H1N1 flu commission with deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, we decided to produce 40 million doses of vaccine from this stock. We still don't know whether one injection will be enough, or whether two will be required. The tests will show.

According to our national requirements, we need to cover 40% of the population in the first year of the epidemic. With this in mind, we are working with the regions now. We have asked governors and business leaders to assure that the segments of the population whose vaccination is not covered by the federal budget are vaccinated as well. This will require financing from regional governments or companies. This is not for the sake of charity; it is for the sake of the economy. Each person vaccinated saves his or her employer working days. It is a matter of protecting working people's health.

This is, in brief, the situation as far as vaccination in concerned. But vaccination is only one measure, while the major efforts undertaken by Mr Zubkov's commission involve stocking pharmaceuticals, training medical personnel and raising general awareness, including in schools. It is important to tell people what to do and how to prevent catching the flu. This is all being carried out systematically both by the federal commission and regional commissions.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Onishchenko, I see how much work is being done, and you have shared some interesting information with us. But you didn't answer my question. What percentage of the population will be vaccinated, and when exactly will they be vaccinated?

You said you are working with the regions and with businesses. But we need to know specifically what part of the work will the regional governments take on, and what exactly will happen in the economy. If not, we'll need to do more here at the federal level. We need to be result-oriented, not process-oriented.

Gennady Onishchenko: The result will be as follows: about 30% of the population will be vaccinated.

Vladimir Putin: When?

Gennady Onishchenko: We'll be working on it... 27 million will be injected with the vaccine that we'll produce in October. We'll begin vaccinating in October. In November and December, we'll vaccinate another 20 million. We'll continue through January, February and March, and will reach 40 million in March.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Let us do as follows: when Mr Zhukov returns, I will give all necessary instructions to him. But you must begin preparing information for a report to the Government.

Gennady Onishchenko: All right.

Vladimir Putin: You'll need to report what specifically will be done, when it will be done, and what resources it will require. If you think that it will be expedient to involve the regions, I must know which of the regions will be involved, and what exactly they will be doing. If something needs to change in the economy, I need to have a clear picture. We need specific figures and complete information.

Gennady Onishchenko: Mr Putin, I have the figures on the pharmaceuticals stocks and other protective means. I will be ready... Mr Zubkov is head of the commission, and we will be ready...

Vladimir Putin: Good. Discuss everything at the commission meeting and present your information to the Government. If so, let Zubkov follow through with the issue. Thank you.

Vladimir Belov: Mr Putin, may I ask you a question?

Vladimir Putin: Please go ahead.

Vladimir Belov: If you agree, we in the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development will draft an address. We have two plants in Russia, which produce this vaccine, and apparently, we will need a decision to abstain from the use of Federal Law No 94, so that these plants...

Vladimir Putin: Let's do this on a case-by-case basis, and the quicker the better, just do not drag this out.

Vladimir Belov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Kiryanov, could you please tell us about traffic safety.

Viktor Kiryanov: Mr Putin, and esteemed colleagues. Despite a stable trend towards a reduction in traffic accidents involving children, the death and injury rates remain extremely high. More than 11,000 traffic accidents involving persons below 16 years of age were registered in the first seven months of this year. Those accidents killed 481 and injured 11,500. Compared with the relevant period of last year, the number of traffic accidents has decreased by 9%, the number of dead by 15.3%, and the number of injured by 8.6%.

The issue of ensuring children's traffic safety becomes especially urgent during the academic year, first of all, when they are transported by school buses. Mr Putin, until recently school buses were beyond our reach. Now we have received them, and they have primarily contributed to the reduction of traffic accidents. However, there are some shortcomings, to which I would like to draw your attention.

Check-ups have shown that more than 90% of the companies using school buses are general educational institutions, which do not adequately comply with safety requirements.

In most cases, officials of general educational institutions and transportation companies are exercising only formal control over compliance with safety regulations with all the ensuing consequences.

There are poor conditions for maintaining buses in proper technical conditions. Some drivers do not have the D category, which entitles them to drive buses. We have revealed such violations. Thus, in the Republic of Buryatia, school buses are used exclusively by general educational institutions, out of which almost one third are falling behind the medical requirements of traffic safety.

In the Republic of Komi, out of 64 transport organisations, almost half do not maintain buses in proper technical condition. There are no conditions for their technical maintenance and repairs. Applicants for drivers' jobs are not properly checked up, and do not upgrade their qualification every year.

There is virtually no control over the work of drivers in the Trans-Baikal Territory. They have bought 20 buses on their own accord. We are grateful to them, of course, but these buses should be adjusted to meet the state standards. These buses should be designed for transporting children but they do not even have safety belts, about which we have talked endlessly, and some other devices for children's safety.

I would like to mention in this context measures taken by the Moscow Region's administration. On the initiative of the traffic police, the region's Governor put transportation agencies in charge of school buses supplied under the priority Project Education. These agencies have all the necessary conditions to guarantee safe transportation of children.

It seems sensible to encourage all executive bodies to follow this example. We have prepared all information fro the Road Safety Commission, and will review the Moscow Region's performance at the next meeting. I think we should give this initiative a legal seal and recommend its implementation by all regions.

A considerable part of accidents is linked with children being hit by cars. In this context, we have checked the condition of crosswalks. Despite reprimands to officials and legal entities, crosswalks near schools are not in a good shape.

Check-ups have revealed that 30% of crosswalks in the Trans-Baikal Territory, 27% in Buryatia, 16% in Komi, and 9% in the Tver, Tomsk and Kaliningrad regions each are below standard requirements. Crosswalks have a number of drawbacks, primarily, poor visibility of traffic signs, absence of horizontal stripes, no artificial lighting, or poor condition of sidewalks, pedestrian footpaths, and road surface.

Importantly, these shortcomings have been registered at every other crosswalk near schools in the Kaliningrad and Tver regions and the Trans-Baikal Territory, and at every fourth crosswalk in Buryatia. Unfortunately, the situation in Moscow and the Moscow Region is much the same.

Development of driver city centres is one of the promising directions of work with children. The relevant federal targeted programme provides for the construction of 40 driver city centres all over the country until 2012. By now, 24 sites have already been built in Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Mary El, Tatarstan, and the Belgorod Region. Four centres are being built under the same programme in North Ossetia, Dagestan, the Kamchatka Territory, and the Penza Region.

At the same time, in the estimate of Rosobrazovaniye (Federal Agency for Education), Kalmykiya, the Khabarovsk Territory, and the Novgorod and Orenburg regions were supposed to build driver city centres until 2009, but have not done anything, apparently, due to the crisis.

It is worth considering the experience of our regions in developing a traffic safety certificate for schools. This document compels schools to organise the training of children in observing road rules, and to promote traffic safety.

In conclusion, I would like to say that from September 1 to 13, special attention will be paid to the operation of traffic police posts all over the country. Additional posts will be set up on the way to schools. Traffic policemen will impose administrative punishment on drivers for the failure to use fastening belts and other safety devices. We will continue this work on a permanent basis. This takes care of my report. Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Kiryanov, what else should your department do to improve the situation in this sphere, and prevent it from becoming worse? What could you say about reserves of your service? What has not been accomplished completely or properly?

Viktor Kiryanov: I would like to address the heads of the regions. I think much depends on them today, because...

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment. I'm not talking about them now. Their turn will come later. Now I'm talking about you, your service, and your employees.

Viktor Kiryanov: The federal targeted programme has made a contribution to this effort. Now we have cut down its funding in some directions.

Mr Putin, I would like us to resume its discussion, and, maybe, to leave it unscathed because in my opinion it is considerably helping to enhance traffic safety. If we do not spend enough money under this programme, we will shift this burden to the regions.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean in specific terms?

Viktor Kiryanov: Take, for instance, crosswalks, lighting, or...

Vladimir Putin: Okay, right now I'm talking about the responsibility of the Traffic Police (GIBDD) of which you are in charge. It is clear that crosswalks and lighting objectively require special attention, this is correct. But I'm talking about your service proper.

Viktor Kiryanov: Speaking about our service, since 2007 your instruction on the functional unity of the Traffic Police...

Vladimir Putin: What are you talking about? Could you please explain?

Viktor Kiryanov: I'm referring to supervisory functions in traffic safety...

Vladimir Putin: Should your authority be increased, or what?

Viktor Kiryanov: No, I don't mean this. I'm not talking about authority. What we have today should be tailored to your instruction.

Vladimir Putin: What should be tailored?

Viktor Kiryanov: A normal supervisory body should be set up.

Vladimir Putin: Is it abnormal now?

Viktor Kiryanov: Obviously, it is not normal.

Vladimir Putin: What is missing?

Viktor Kiryanov: It does not work from top to bottom. This is what we are missing.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean specifically? What should be working?

Viktor Kiryanov: Mr Putin, if we carry out supervision, we must bring it to the bottom, to the regions and cities. Today, we are not getting it quite right.

Vladimir Putin: In other words, you do not have enough authority as a supervisory body. Is this right?

Viktor Kiryanov: Yes, if we mean the Traffic Police.

Vladimir Putin: Okay. In this case, will you please submit a proposal on how to organise this, and we will discuss it separately.

Viktor Kiryanov: Okay. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Two school principals are with us today-Tatyana Slesareva of Tver and Nadezhda Cheshko of the Kaliningrad Region. Let them have the floor. How are preparations going? What are your schools' worst problems, and how do you cope with them? Go ahead please.

Tatyana Slesareva: Mr Putin, ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad to see student safety and preparations for the new academic year discussed at this high level. It is especially gratifying to see that we school principals are not left eye to eye with our problems.

School principals had no support whatsoever many years ago, as you might know. Now, we see authorities' understanding and eagerness to help at every level-federal, regional and municipal.

The Tver Region has student safety on the top priority list. There are regional fire safety and basic repair programmes. Their implementation suits my school perfectly. We received a complete set of fire alarm and fighting equipment in the previous academic year to a sum exceeding 500,000 roubles from regional and municipal allocations.

Municipally funded basic repairs, to 3 million roubles, are over in the ground floor, with new electric wires and flooring.

We amply use extrabudgetary resources. My school has received all facilities for an information centre on the IT development programme as the regional innovation school with exemplary equipment.

All our teachers have access to high technologies now. The new equipment requires wiring suited for greater voltage, so we have replaced it entirely according to new technical standards on extrabudgetary grants.

We have also received extrabudgetary grants to upgrade the canteen and the kitchen. The school is financed from three sources, so we cope fine. The municipal acceptance inspection visited us on August 20, and said the school was perfectly ready for the new academic year. All inspectors were at one on this point.

Every new academic year brings personnel problems into the foreground. We have no such problems now-the school is manned fully. We owe it largely to the new pattern of teacher remuneration, introduced on March 1. The incentives it envisages give the school principal opportunities to employ top qualification staff and young promising teachers, attracted by monthly bonuses.

I have received the right to pay such bonuses to young teachers and so encourage them to retain the job. The work records of 10% of our personnel are no longer than three years. It is hopeful, considering the ageing of the teaching staff, which is a burning national problem.

Now, ever more young people choose teaching careers. It is a welcome trend, which I ascribe largely to the new remuneration system, which proceeds from per capita funding.

An average English language teacher makes 10,000 roubles a month even at the start of his career. The school would have never afforded it with the old remuneration system.

Teachers' average monthly wage is 14,000 roubles in my school. As you understand, earnings depend on the teaching loads, among other factors.

Another hopeful trend has appeared-ever fewer teachers leave education for careers in other fields.

I asked the pupils of my school recently who would like to become a teacher. My heart missed a beat as I put the question. I thought no one would say he wanted the job. However, girls were enthusiastic about it. What was even more gratifying, many boys said they wanted to teach English or become games masters. By the way, two games masters have come to my school straight from college this year.

You see how the prestige of teaching has grown after the Government launched national priority Project Education. Many took part in the Best Teacher contest it envisaged. Ten teachers of my school were among the winners-teachers of English, literature, mathematics and physics, and a games master. This wide range of disciplines was especially encouraging.

We started the educational project with apprehension. We thought we had no chance for success-but it was sheer triumph! The school has won two contests related to the project, and is gaining prestige with the public, especially students and their parents. Children are proud to study at a winner school. We have won a million rouble grant in one of the contests, and spent it entirely on our new information centre. The school is among its co-financers because it has contributed two million roubles-the grant plus a million rouble target allocation. That is how we meet our challenges.

The new labour remuneration system grants school principals independence in drawing the school budget and payroll. Municipal authorities can no longer interfere with my work and say I have redundant employees. It is up to me alone to determine how many my school should employ.

I am also free to finance teachers' postgraduate training, without which quality tuition is out of the question. I can provide such upgrading even outside the region now.

There are other problems I want to draw your attention to. First, there is a discrepancy in financial planning. Every school arranges its schedule for the academic year while its budget and cost estimates are drawn for the calendar year. So it would be good to give schools leeway to prepare when sanitary, fire and other inspections introduce new standards. Schools have no time, the way it is now, and inspectors catch them unawares.

Second, all inspections should unify their standards. It is also a major problem.

As for children's safety, it would be timely to introduce a new discipline, The Road to School, in Project Education. It is a problem not only in the countryside. Urban children are endangered with heavy traffic. My school, for instance, is in the city's heart, and it is hard to approach it.

Pity the Best School contest of innovation schools is over. It offered schools moral and material support, and helped to prepare for the new academic year and with equipping schools. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Nadezhda Cheshko has the floor.

Nadezhda Cheshko: I will not repeat what Ms Slesareva has said. She is quite right about the recent improvement of attitudes to school. It is mainly due to the shift to planned per capita financing, which has untied our hands. We school principals can satisfy teachers' material interest now. Whatever complains school principals might have, there is a major incentive now to improve education. Efficient principals cannot but notice it.

My school was the first to introduce the new remuneration system, in September 2007. We have never been sorry we did. Teachers' average monthly wage is 18,600 roubles. It was mere 7,600 at the time we started the change.

Improvements are evident even though two rural schools have been affiliated to mine-which means that we have to share our money with those schools to keep them afloat. They are functioning as any other schools though they have the legal status of branches. We make both ends meet even despite that. The school is even prosperous.

We have received sizeable support from the educational modernisation project, on which total allocations for three and a half years amount to 275 million roubles to finance several projects-in particular, The Road to School competition. It was funded generously enough for us to equip school bus stops, modernise buses, and build a private highway.

There was another achievement-a contest for the development of the municipal educational network. My school won a 1.5 million rouble grant in it. We spent the grant to change all school windows.

The latest contest my school won was regional, financed from the local initiative promotion fund. We won 1,310,000 roubles and made basic repairs on our resource centre building.

The money helped us to prepare the school for the new academic year. Pity the project in coming to an end. It is great support, really. Can it be prolonged at least for some short time?

The school is funded from the regional and municipal purses. Regional allocations cover wages and tuition expenses, and we pay municipal money for premises maintenance and utilities fees.

Expenditure items are prescribed stringently with limits introduced this year. For instance, utilities fees cannot exceed 2,400 roubles per student a year. What if high authorities allow schools distribute their budget independently? We know ourselves which goals are the more important.

Meanwhile, schools resemble a man in a posh hat and patched-up pants. They have received sufficient equipment and rather high wages but make do with rotting floors and leaking roofs-and municipal authorities could not care less! The situation is the worst in towns of district subordination. I don't know how things are in large cities-my school is in a small town.

Vladimir Putin: What money, do you think, schools should distribute independently?

Nadezhda Cheshko: All allocations from the regional and municipal budgets.

Vladimir Putin: Now, you can distribute only a part of allocations, if I am not mistaken?

Nadezhda Cheshko: Regional allocations can be spent only on wages and tuition, and municipal ones on maintenance alone. My school has purchased new furniture and all equipment it needs. Why should not we channel a part of municipal money to education purposes? At the end of the year, we often have unspent municipal allocations, and we rack our brains thinking what to spend the money on, while we can shift it to our town, to help it in its needs. Our district has a population of 14,000. I don't think it has a large budget. We might cede the surplus to the town purse to repair other buildings. Why not grant schools this right?

The Government employment programme envisages allocations on public works this year. They are of great help in school preparations for the new academic year.

My school employed 30 on public works. They made a greater part of repairs-which means we spent municipal money only on construction materials. It was a thrifty arrangement. I don't see why some regions have refused to get those allocations.

Public works allow my school now to do jobs we have neglected for years because of hands and money shortages. Now, we can afford them.

Our region is active on the Healthy Food project. Four town councils and 12 schools were involved in the project last year. It is 14 town councils and 58 schools now. Regrettably, our town cannot take part because my school, with a thousand students, has six buildings, two of them in the countryside. The town has no premises for the machinery the project requires. It demands great space.

The Government supports the school construction programme despite the crisis. That is good. It's a pity my town has begun to build only four schools out of the planned seven. We will hardly afford to start building the rest even next year. The town cannot even spare two million roubles for design estimate of one of those schools. It is a bad problem. What can be done about it? I think the matter demands federal assistance to regions.

I want to add something because regional Governors are here. Our region has experience that deserves emulation, as far as I can judge. I mean the establishment of a fund of material rewards to schools for quality tuition.

Our regional allocation standards per student have stayed unchanged for two years or so. Schools are financed proceeding from the number of students. The Governor has established an additional fund to reward schools for quality tuition. Schools have to meet many standards to qualify-in particular, the state of equipment, students' health, the results of the unified state examinations, etc. All necessary information is submitted on September 10.

25 schools that qualify are selected for every educational stage to receive extra finance. My school received additional 1,780,000 roubles for quality tuition. It was a sizeable sum, and great encouragement. Every teacher sees now that his earnings depend on his professional achievements. All schools should see the same and work well if they want more money. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Both addresses were interesting and highly informative.

Let us listen to heads of regions now. Mr Vladimir Torlopov (the head of the Komi Republic) has the floor.

Vladimir Torlopov: Thank you, Mr Putin. All our 470 general schools were ready for the new academic year on August 25, which is the deadline every year in the republic. The fire inspection and Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare) have issued relevant certificates.

This year's preparations were even better than last year despite problems bred by the economic crisis. All municipal entities have met the deadline. The material and technical basis has been modernised. All necessary repairs, basic and minor, have been made, all heating pipes flushed, etc, etc. 84% of school furniture has been replaced with new one by the start of the academic year, and all the rest will be replaced before the year's end. We would have done it by now if not for belated supplies. 90% of school canteens and kitchens have received new refrigerators and other equipment.

All schools are on the Internet now. The Komi Republic is second-best after St Petersburg for the number of school computers, which we have installed according to the latest standards, one for 13 students.

Two schools and two kindergartens opened in 2008-2009. Three schools have reopened after basic repairs, and two schools and three kindergartens after reconstruction this year. Two schools are under construction, and basic repairs are on in another three.

An integrated wooden house building factory has opened this year. It is unique in many respects. We launched the project after your visit to the republic, Mr Putin. I can provide necessary details later, if you like.

I have promised you to complete all mentioned projects, and the republic is good on its word. Construction of another three schools will start soon. Average construction costs of one rural school were 300 million roubles previously. Now, we have built even more fireproof timber schools than the republic needs. They all meet fire safety standards perfectly. Regular school construction will start in the countryside. We are beginning to build three schools this year, as I have said.

Now, for reprimands made us-in particular, by Mr Kiryanov. As things really are, all our 66 school buses fully meet technical safety requirements and so suit to transport children. I have all relevant documents to prove this point.

Mr Putin, the real problem lies elsewhere. There are no automobile operating companies in the countryside to assign school buses to, so buses cannot meet all standards as they go en route. School principals have to authorise egress. That is a major problem.

There is another problem with school buses. Driver check-ups before departure are made by school physicians or local paramedics because there are no clinics or other medical establishments close enough-at the distance of 50, 70 or 100 kilometres-that are licensed for such checks. Such are the two problems we really have.

As for traffic safety, we have installed speed humps to both sides of every school in all our major cities within these two years.

Next, we are doing really much in the mass media and in every other field through them. Traffic policemen are on duty in every town before the start of the academic year and from August 31 through September to secure safe street crossing when classes finish.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Torlopov, the problems you have mentioned-the technical state of buses and driver check-ups-can be solved easily. Medical officers can be trained and certified. That is quite a practicable task.

It is also possible to establish car and bus maintenance and check-up stations. Cannot you cope?

Andrei Fursenko: There are regulations which do not authorise rural paramedics...

Vladimir Putin: They will cope after proper upgrading, and might be certified. The matter demands only organisation. Do you hear, Mr Belov?

Vladimir Belov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: People must be trained, not merely certified. It is rather a simple job, isn't it? Driver check-ups don't demand expert physicians. It is a very simple job. The arrangement must be launched. Organise it in the regions please.

As for traffic checkpoints, you can establish them on your own, I think.

Vladimir Torlopov: There are such points at some schools, and their principals issue permits. But there are no automobile operating companies in the countryside, and many villages have problems.

Vladimir Putin: If there are none in villages, you might establish district companies.

Vladimir Torlopov: Most villages are at 50-70 kilometre distance from their district centres.

Vladimir Putin: Is it too far for a bus? What do you need with a school bus that cannot cover the distance?

Vladimir Torlopov: They need a new permit every day.

Vladimir Putin: Arrange inspectors' visits, then.

Vladimir Torlopov: Okay, we will think what we can do.

Vladimir Putin: You should have thought about it long ago, Mr Torlopov. What else can you do? Set it all adrift and say the problem defies solution?

Vladimir Torlopov: But school principals examine buses themselves...

Vladimir Putin: Is it any of their business? School principals should supervise tuition and teacher wage payments. Are they technical inspectors or what? Join hands with the traffic police and settle the problem! Whose duty is it to certify vehicles in general? Traffic policemen's?

Vladimir Torlopov: Yes, it is up to the traffic police as a specialised technical establishment.

Vladimir Putin: Organise it all with the traffic police and district governors. The matter will most probably demand finance and training centres. I wonder why you have put it off for so long.

Vladimir Torlopov: The situation is the same in other regions, too.

Vladimir Putin: I see. I do not mean Komi alone but the entire country. It is good that you pay attention to the problem but not so good that your schools are among the worst prepared in Russia. Just why?

Vladimir Torlopov: Mr Putin, we were 100% ready in this respect by August 25. We have all relevant papers from the Fire Inspection and Rospotrebnadzor.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Torlopov, it is hard to argue with you, and I do not intend to do so because I proceed from information provided by federal agencies-the Education Ministry, fire inspections, and so on. Mr Fursenko...

Andrei Fursenko: Rospotrebnadzor and the State Fire Inspection told us on August 25 that 32 schools did not qualify for fire safety, and another 52 on consumer protection lines.

Vladimir Torlopov: Mr Putin, it was the situation in the middle of August.

Vladimir Putin: But they dated the report by August 25.

Vladimir Torlopov: August 25 is always the deadline. Do you think I am telling you lies?

Vladimir Putin: I hope you are not. However, you must get the matter sorted out... You are reporting 100% readiness but I see different figures here.

Andrei Fursenko: There was a telephone conference on August 25, when all those figures were announced and never disproved. If they had been refuted we would have other figures here. I repeat, my deputy chaired a national telephone conference on August 25...

Vladimir Torlopov: Right. Our Education Minister took part in it and said we were 100% ready.

Vladimir Putin: The minister could say anything! Don't count on what she said-what you need is firsthand information. Come to the schools that were mentioned, and see for yourself.

Vladimir Torlopov: I will.

Vladimir Putin: Check it all yourself, and if you see any discrepancies, you should visit the controversial sites.

Vladimir Torlopov: That's right. I thank you on behalf of all teachers in our republic because we have waited for it so long, and for introducing Northern allowances.

Vladimir Putin: Regional governors have discussed the matter, and the decision is sealed.

Vladimir Torlopov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Nagovitsyn (addressing Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, president of the Republic of Buryatia), as I understand, everything is normal in your republic with regard to provision school students with meals, but not so with other issues.

Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn: I apologise. We were also trying to figure out where the figure 81% came from. On Monday the 24th, there was a teleconference and the figure 81% (of preparedness of educational establishments for the new academic year) was indicated. But that was on August 24. Now the situation has changed. But I want to say that there is a silver lining. The fact is that this year, we allocated an unprecedented amount of funds and accomplished a lot. We not only painted and whitewashed our school buildings, but we installed full coverage fire alarm systems, 30% of our schools were equipped with video surveillance equipment and in facilities where children live 24/7 we accomplished 100% of all requirements.

Major overhaul was performed, including with your support, particularly in areas where schools were in catastrophic condition. Therefore, I will just say that this year we might have been a bit delayed in the beginning. There was a set schedule for inspections. But if we had had the money and the capability, why would we stop working?

As of today, only two schools have not passed the inspection. And even so, one of these schools has just been built, and I'm going down there to inaugurate it personally. That's why it's being specially kept on hold, even though the inspection has already been held. We will sign the formal acceptance certification on September 1, and hand over the keys. Everything is all right. The second school underwent a major overhaul and the inspection is scheduled for this weekend. Everything there will also be ready.

So this year, we're much better off than we were before. I want to add, Mr Putin, that we also took a serious approach to traffic safety. Just like in Komi today, we installed speed bumps practically everywhere, at every school.

Today, someone mentioned that somewhere a crosswalk was not done, but I think that it's not yet possible to do one everywhere, because we have village schools with rural roads. Nevertheless, let's see what can be done with road signs. I'll get it sorted. I'll consider all of these comments.

Regarding safety promotion, we have hired some school instructors. We did it like this - if a school has more than 500 pupils, then there needs to be an in-house school instructor, a policeman to prevent vandalism, disorderly conduct, and provide security. Accordingly, 80% of school students are consistently covered with this kind of protection.

Regarding the first day of school, we have put all schools under police protection, so there won't be any mishaps or incidents to mar September 1, and we'll be able to celebrate it in an appropriate manner.

As a constituent entity, we are in the process of modernizing education. Mr Putin, we have introduced per-capita financing and a new payroll system at 100% of our schools. There are already positive results.

From August 5-8, we conducted an educational forum in Buryatia, which was attended by 24 constituent entities, including those that are modernizing education. We exchanged opinions and reviewed the condition of our schools. We rated institutions very highly, including the Russian Federation Ministry of Education for the support that it offered. The Ministry of Education has provided us with considerable financial support.

We can see the results today, and according to these results, we have closed 30 schools - inefficient and poorly equipped facilities that contributed little. And this was not our decision. Mr Putin, the best thing is that the system has allowed for bottom-up initiative, where citizens and school principals themselves turn to us and say, "Let's unify two schools on opposite sides of the road in one town. Let's close one of them and merge them into one school."

We turned 23 schools into school branches in exactly this manner, i.e., we formed consolidated management and cut the number of classes by 329. This is the system working on its own.

Now, class sizes in rural areas average 14.4 and 24.8 in urban areas, even though there were some worse figures. In other words, schools are filling up.

In 2009 alone, wages rose by 27%, while the wage fund confirmed in accordance with the budget increased by only 8%. In other words, such considerable growth is due to optimisation.

In terms of organising hot meals, we have adopted the law in the republic to fully support children from low-income families. Accordingly, all children are provided with hot meals in schools.

And we have mobilised our school directors. Practically all schools are open during the summer, particularly the rural ones, and they keep gardens, small gardens where children learn labour. Adults help out, as do sponsors. In this way, reasonably good nutrition is facilitated.

In the near term, we plan to continue construction, and in just over two years (2007-2008), we commissioned 16 new schools and have launched construction of 12 new schools. Our goal is to have no dilapidated schools whatsoever by 2011.

And in general, we have set a goal that the school should be the most beautiful building in any community. It must have heated bathrooms, it must have all equipment, everything, European-standard remodelling and the like. Because we understand that children gain knowledge there and the foundations of their future are laid there. If they study in a pigsty, then they will have this kind of attitude towards life. If they see something positive, they will always strive towards that, so our goals are aimed at this.

We have allocated unprecedented funds this year - more than one billion roubles for preparing schools for the school year. And I want to assure you, Mr Putin, that we will fully provide for the security of all students. All schools will start on September 1 as planned.

Vladimir Putin: Good. So, esteemed colleagues, who would like to add something? Please proceed, Mr Kuzmitsky (addressing Alexei Kuzmitsky, governor of Kamchatka territory).

Alexei Kuzmitsky: I would like to brief you about the results we have achieved. Old kitchen units have been replaced with new ones in half of the schools. Over 300 million roubles were earmarked for preparations, including repairs, which is 17% more than last year.

Fire alarm systems and fire extinguishing equipment were supplied to schools in full. Half of the schools received new furniture, with the funds allotted for this purpose exceeding last year's by twice.

Healthcare services for students have received special attention as well. The number of healthcare rooms was doubled, with 50 schools having them now. In other educational institutions, healthcare services will be provided under contract with healthcare organisations.

We have provided many school students with free textbooks. I am primarily referring to the schools of the Koryak District. All 16 school buses underwent technical inspections and were found acceptable to transport students.

As of August 27, 100% of intermediate vocational training schools, basic vocational training schools, educational institutions for orphaned children and children without parental care have been inspected and authorised to open on September 1. As for boarding schools and other correctional educational institutions, one school has yet to be approved.

This is the special boarding school in the village of Novye Tekstilshchiki in the Koryak District, affected by the earthquake. This school's needs were taken into account when drafting design and engineering documentation. We decided to allocate funds from the regional budget to construct an outbuilding next to the original school building. About ten days ago, during a three-day tour of the Koryak District, I visited that school to inspect it; all items have been completed, and the school will receive approval. No doubt, this school and the outbuilding will open on September 1.

Overall, 112 general education schools, or 95% received permission to open. Another five schools will have been inspected by August 31. I believe that they will be authorised to open as well. However, two schools won't be ready to open on September 1. In the Vilyuchinsk secondary school, major repairs were started in spring, with plans to finish in January 2010; but we altered the plans and will try to finish the repairs by November. The students will attend other schools.

As for rural areas, all educational institutions have been inspected; 25 of them require further inspection. There are no dilapidated schools in the Kamchatka Territory.

There is a seismic risk, however. That's why so much has been done in the Vilyuchinsk school. Major repairs were also carried out in the school of the village of Atlasovo, with the old floor covering replaced with a new one and the façade renovated. The plan was to finish these repairs in October, but we'll try to complete the job in September.

Besides these two schools, all educational institutions will be ready to open on September 1.

I would like to draw your attention to one more acute problem related to education.

Some schools in remote areas that are hard to access lack the necessary teaching and lab equipment. And what's more important, there are not enough teachers there.

One of the aspects of the Education priority national project deals with remote education programmes for children with disabilities. We launched a trial project in our region involving 50 students. We have achieved good results. On average, these students have shown better exam results on the subjects they study without teachers. We have also launched a remote education programme for school students.

We suggest launching a trial project within the framework of the Education priority national project to develop the remote education programme for school students. In 2007 you gave a directive to install a multimedia communication system in the Kamchatka Territory. I discussed this issue with the ministers. We will work on this issue. In our view, if the remote education programme for school students proves effective, it will be possible to conduct lessons in videoconference mode. So, specific techniques need to be developed in this respect. Such lessons may be conducted once or twice a week, which will improve the quality and accessibility of education in these poorly equipped schools that lack teachers. There are some 25 schools in the Kamchatka Territory. Mr Prime Minister, I have prepared a written request to you, which I will submit if you don't mind.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you. Mr Kress (turning to Viktor Kress, Governor of Tomsk Region), please, go ahead.

Viktor Kress: Mr Putin, of the 400 schools in our region, 105 are wooden.

Several years ago we started demolishing these wooden schools to build new ones. It turned out that in the north of the region a studying seat is millions of roubles more expensive. We understood the futility of the situation, that we'd never finish it. We developed a workable system for renovating the buildings. The wooden buildings were built in the 1930s through the 1950s. We are extending their life by a minimum of 50 years. This will cost between 100,000 to 200,000 per studying seat.

This year we have completed renovation work on six major schools by September 1, and renovation is underway on another 14 schools. By January 1, we will have completed this work, and we will have 45 schools remaining. We will continue on groups of 15 schools each year, if co-financing continues as this year.

A moderate sum of 2.5 billion is assigned for this at the federal level, but we were given 180 million this year, we added 200 million ourselves, and 60 million came from municipalities. In three years we will cope with the situation, and there will not be any dangerously dilapidated schools in the region. They have all the latest conveniences, and really are palaces in the countryside, which create an entirely different atmosphere.

Therefore, I have a request, Mr Putin. I understand how difficult the current situation is regarding the federal budget, but if it is possible to allocate this modest sum, we would together do a great job. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: OK. Fine.

Eduard Rossel (Governor of Sverdlovsk Region): Prime Minister, we are 100% ready for the start of the school year; all schools in our region have been approved. The figures mentioned here amaze me; because, of course, on August 25, it was neither 100% nor 76%, but 87%. Mr Fursenko and Mr Shoigu held a telephone conference during which they mentioned us being ready. We have met all fire safety requirements, every issue was followed up on and we have received all the acceptance certificates, as required.

We set up a system involving 1,300 educational establishments, 1,100 general secondary schools. All are ready. In addition to that, there are 34 evening schools, 68 corrective schools, and 65 schools for orphaned children, and all of them are definitely ready. We have purchased furniture and equipment. We have always approached this as seriously as we do now.

In these last two years we purchased 260 school buses, which carry 13,000 children across the region. In total we have 600 working buses. Every issue noted during inspection has been resolved.

Thank you for help in switching to the new system of payment. Wages here were not bad, but now they have been raised to 15,300 roubles for a teacher. This has allowed us to fill vacancies, 41,000 teachers, and they are younger, rejuvenating the school staffs.

We were forced to close small ungraded schools. This is a very sensitive subject. Mr Putin, I would like to draw your attention to it. Simply from life experience, as soon as a school closes, the village stops to exist, it dies immediately. That is why we ourselves analysed the situation, to establish which schools may be built more cheaply. We built them using German technology from a very good company that allows us to build the warmest buildings: panelised houses, schools, and kindergartens. We have developed the design to accommodate from 54 to 154 school students, and these schools can be assembled in one week provided the foundation is in place, the zero circle.

We have worked out the Heavenly Village programme. Its aim is to preserve all 1,800 villages. We've drawn 1,800 so-called passports, one document for each village, so we know everything that goes on there, how many jobs there are, how many pensioners, how many students and so on. Under this programme we have to invest 60 billion roubles before 2015 for the comprehensive development of the countryside, including all related tasks - construction of the roads, schools, hospitals, creation of jobs, and so on.

This programme is currently being implemented. Unfortunately this year it is somewhat delayed, for obvious reasons, but we will implement it. We have already set up 300 general practitioners' jobs in rural areas.

And the results are surprising. There has been a four-fold decline in heart attacks in rural areas, and no neonatal deaths in rural areas.

And I would like to ask, in this regard, that when we speak about rural schools, we should be very careful about the villages, because they are being eradicated. Conversely, we are encouraging them, reinvigorating the villages. Because they feed us, they raise us, the fields give us everything.

And as for our current state of preparedness, we are 100% ready.

Vladimir Putin: Once again I would like to say: I have different figures for the 25th of August. I hope that now that's what it is like. Does anyone want to say anything? Please, speak, Mr Geniatulin (turning to Mr Ravil Geniatulin, Governor of Trans-Baikal Territory).

Ravil Geniatulin: Mr Putin, colleagues. The figure stated here was correct - our schools are ready for the new school year by 81%. But all 19 schools have been equipped with fire alarms, automatic fire alarms. All the contracts have been signed and work has begun. Everything will be complete by October 1. All other vital requirements on fire safety at these schools can and will be ensured.

The criticism about the lack of funding for kitchen equipment was correct. This year we will open seven new schools, five of them by September 1, and four kindergartens. Money comes from only "one pocket", and it is understandable that in this case the money simply did not suffice for everything.

We did indeed purchase the buses but they are all different. If standard school buses are offered for sale, they are fitted with everything, including emergency buttons and places for children's bags. And if we have to buy model 452 - it is a medium-size bus used to transport people - then, of course, it would not be fitted as a school bus, and all related problems have to be addressed on the ground.

There are currently no problems, no reasons why all 1,269 schools across the region cannot be opened at the beginning of the school year. Only schoolchildren at nine schools will not be able to use their own classrooms, because their schools are undergoing repair works, but according to Mr Fursenko's instructions we do not have the right to let repair works interfere with education, so they will either go to nearby schools or will study in other facilities.

Therefore the school year in Trans-Baikal Territory will start on time and as planned. With that I conclude my report.

Vladimir Putin: Please, Mr Yurpalov (turning to Sergei Yurpalov, Deputy Minister of Regional Development).

Sergei Yurpalov: Mr Putin, I would like to support Ms Cheshko in part, regarding the use of allocated financial resources, transfers and resources allocated for education. I would simply like to confirm that last year spending on general education per student on average rose by 33% across the Russian Federation; however spending on fixed assets increased by as little as 9%. And that accounts for less than 10% of the overall volume of resources spent on education.

In other words we need to adjust the pattern of financing, so as to increase the proportion spent on fixed assets, i.e. buildings and facilities, and complete overhauling and modernising the remaining 26% of the buildings housing general educational institutions which are currently dangerously dilapidated. That's first.

Secondly, as for our preparations for winter, schools must of course be warm, and there has to be hot and cold running water. The Ministry of Regional Development is monitoring the preparations for winter and a conference call was held on August 19. The regions that were lagging behind have noticeably put on pace. We will report back on how the decisions taken are being put into practice on September 1.

Particular attention was paid to the Siberian Federal District, and here, in the context of today's discussions, it is necessary to pay particular attention to monitoring coal prices for local boiler houses. When power generation systems are being replaced, it is vitally important that the municipal heating supply systems would not suffer because of lack of railway cars, open-top wagons supplying coal, etc. This is particularly important now, and we will closely monitor the situation, especially in Siberia, and report back. That is all.

Vladimir Putin: Fine, thank you, is that all?

Colleagues, September 1 is a working day in our country, but traditionally it has been one of the brightest and best holidays, a nationwide celebration. For this day to really feel like a celebration, hundreds and thousands of people, whose duties include the preparation of the educational process, must work hard.

We have not held meetings like this before on the federal level, on the Governmental level, in preparation for the start of the school year. We did not do that because the organisation of the educational process on the ground, school management and upkeep, is primarily, by law, the responsibility of the regional and municipal authorities. At the same time, federal government agencies and departments are now directly involved, and will continue to be involved in this process. I think that similar meetings on the eve of September 1 should be routine Government procedure.

But today I would like to say that indeed, there is now a positive trend in how education is organised. This also applies to the conversion to a new system of labour remuneration. In my opening address, I mentioned that by no means have all regions begun to convert. That's a pity. Judging from expert opinion, people who work directly in the field, this new practice is bearing fruit, especially in regions where it is adopted conscientiously.

It is also good that we are paying more attention to the maintenance of educational facilities, to their technical equipment. As is well known we have carried out a thorough computerisation of schools. We have fully prepared specialists in this area.

But the material base certainly needs further improvement. Today we talked about how vital it is to upgrade the process of education and school management.

I thank the school principals for their suggestions and proposals concerning common standards, the timely introduction of common standards of all supervisory bodies.

This relates to the improvement and perfection of the system of financing. We will definitely consider this question. I will not say now how long it will take because it requires certain efforts, discussions and agreements. It should be done professionally. We will definitely examine this issue.

In addition, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are still many problems in education. We should not think that we have fully discharged our duties in this sector.

There is still much that needs to be done. Today during our meeting, it became clear that several areas require additional coordination between regional and federal Government agencies. This does not cost anything, it simply relates to the scrupulous, timely discharge of duties.

I think no one would object that education is one of our foremost priorities. And if that is the case then how is it possible that on the federal, and even more so on regional or local levels, authorities focus their efforts on some kind of municipal constructions and repair works when there are a host of schools lacking normal medical rooms, normal gyms? How do you set your priorities? What could be more important than that?

I draw the attention of the Minister of Education and Science to this, and those in charge of other federal agencies. I draw the attention of governors, heads of constituent entities of the Russian Federation, and local leaders to this. I think we must all once again look at the problems in education, to ensure that all educational establishments function adequately. I count on us all acting in a coordinated, successful way.

Thank you very much for taking part.