Croatia: There is a Waldorf Kindergarten in Rijeka since 1996 and a Waldorf School since 2000. The work of the initiative was very successful at first, but in the course of time dramatic financial difficulties developed. This was due to the rising school fee, leading to a decreasing number of students. Currently 34 students attend the 8 grades of the school and the teachers earn a strongly reduced salary.
It is 7:15 am and a new school day begins: The school building is already open and the first children walk through the corridors, chat with each other in classrooms or just snooze a bit before school starts. Parents bring their kindergarten children up to the second floor of the building, where the kindergarten teachers are already waiting. The schoolteachers also arrive one after the other. A popular meeting point is the small but neat kitchen, where tea is being served. At eight o’clock the main lesson finally begins, however not for everyone since there are too few teachers. Nevertheless one has found a suitable arrangement. A drama is also being rehearsed by grade 8 as a closure of their time at Waldorf School. It is the play “The little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
When the School opened shortly after the end of the war, everything necessary as a basis for the foundation of a Waldorf School seemed available. The government promised financial support, the interest was high and the kindergarten groups as well as the school grades developed well.
However, at some point the government cut down the financial aid and the positive development of the young school came to an abrupt end. In order to counter the financial distress the initiative raised the school fee. However, this did not suffice and the first wave of deregistration was not long in coming. In order not to loose even more students, the teacher’s salaries were significantly cut down, which then caused some teachers to leave, as they were not able to cope with the consequences.
As the situation became more and more serious, the more intensive fought the remaining teachers, students and parents for the survival of the school. Up to today, the teachers work with a smaller salary than public school teachers and even accepted the fact that, in 2009, they only received 9 out of 12 monthly salaries. However, there are not only financial challenges, since the birth rate of the already small city of Rijeka (180.000 citizens) is constantly decreasing. Therefore the student figure is not actually as small as it may seem at first, compared to the Waldorf School in Zagreb (population: 1 million), where 90 students attend the school.
Teachers, parents and students keep on fighting for the survival of the school and continue dreaming of a high school being established sometime in the future and during better times. Not only the common will and the many attempts to regain solid ground are remarkable result of the crisis, but also the overcoming of the schools hierarchic internal structure, which has been democratically transformed.