San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

French School Gets a Reprieve

Students and parents at the French-CostaRicanSchool breathed a sigh of relief this month when the incoming French ambassador announced France would continue to invest in the school.

Fabrice Delloye said his government would continue to partially pay the salaries of 18 native French teachers, even as France substantially reduces funding for the school.

When the previous French ambassador, Jean-Paul Monchau, announced in August that Paris would withdraw from a 1967 convention that created the school, rumors flew France would end all its funding and the school would close.

“The environment in the school has been very insecure, very unstable,” said Katia Ortega, who has three children enrolled.

France has historically contributed 50 percent of the school’s budget, while the Education Ministry has put 10 percent and families shouldered the rest.

But as France cuts funding for its 430 schools worldwide, the French-CostaRicanSchool has landed on the trimming block.

Earlier this year, the French government said it would reduce investment to 33 percent, leaving families to pick up the tab.

The French-Costa Rican Teaching Association, a group of parents, teachers and Francophiles helping to run the school, was ambivalent about tuition hikes.

Higher fees would help maintain quality, parents said, but hikes would also undermine the school’s reputation as a haven for middle-class intellectuals.

The K-12 school, located in Tres Ríos, east of San José, offers French and Costa Rican high school degrees. About 78 percent of the student body is Tico and 16 percent is French, and nearly all classes are taught in French. Some 18 of the school’s approximately 75 teachers were hired in France by the French government.

“Some of the parents are willing to pay much more to maintain the quality,” said the school’s director, Jean-Luc Mathieu. “Others don’t want to and perhaps cannot afford to.”

After clashing with parents and Education Minister Leonardo Garnier, Monchau said France would withdraw from the convention (TT, July 11).

The announcement “led to antagonism and ugly fights among parents,” Ortega said. “They blamed one another for what was happening.”

Monchau’s move was also a wake-up call to parents. In October, the association increased monthly tuition to ¢134,000 (about $244) from ¢108,000 ($196). This month, Delloye said France would continue to help fund the school, but cuts are still in order.

France is expected to invest 924,000 euros ($1.2 million) in the school in 2009, down from 1.4 million euros ($1.8 million) this year, Mathieu said.

The cuts mean a decrease in the number of native French teachers, who make about three times as much as Tico staffers. The French government did not replace six French teachers who left last year, and France will not replace two more staffers set to leave in July, Mathieu said.

“France is having budgetary difficulties,” Delloye said. “We are living a financial crisis. …The status quo cannot continue. France does not have the means. … There must be room for education in the family budget.”

Mathieu said the association will likely need to increase tuition further to maintain the school’s quality. But for now, parents and teachers are relieved.

Last Friday, Delloye visited the school with Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, who was born in Paris and speaks French fluently. A preschool class prepared a cake to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary, and the two diplomats sang, “Joyeux Anniversaire.” Students approached Delloye in the hall and thanked him.


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