Parents and school boards have criticised the move to use primary school budgets to part-reverse cuts to teacher numbers at disadvantaged schools.
Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, has taken €2.5m from the capitation grants paid to all 3,200 primary schools so he can fund the retention of 235 teachers at over 130 schools in his department’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools programme.
They were some of 428 jobs that schools had kept from disadvantage schemes pre-dating that scheme, but which were under threat of being taken away from September.
While the saving of more than half the jobs has been widely welcomed, the impact of the funding cut has caused huge concern.
It will mean a cut of another €5 per pupil to all primary schools, in addition to a cut already due to take effect this year. It will leave primary schools with €178 per head for running costs.
The National Parents Council-Primary said it feared the effect would be to add to the financial pressures felt by many families, as schools experiencing financial difficulties often had to make requests for contributions from parents.
“In a significant number of schools, the voluntary contribution is not seen by parents as voluntary,” said the council’s chief executive, Áine Lynch.
“Parents have told us that these contributions are often now referred to as fees and levies rather than voluntary contributions.”
A 2007 survey for the Irish Primary Principals Network put the average cost of a 100-pupil primary school at over €34,000. However, heating and insurance, which made up more than €8,000 of those costs, have risen since and the grant must now also be used for repairs and maintenance previously funded by a separate grant.
The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association said schools would now have less than €1 per pupil for each of the 183 days in the primary school year.
“Schools are struggling to survive financially and when the proposed abolition of the minor works grant is taken into account, many will simply not be able to pay their bills,” said general secretary Eileen Flynn. “How can schools budget ahead when cuts are announced in the middle of the school year, they are applied retrospectively and leave primary schools even more disadvantaged compared to other sectors?”
The department said there was little scope for savings elsewhere in the primary education budget of over €3bn, as 92% of it goes on pay and pensions and another 6% is spent on capitation funding.
Mr Quinn is also allowing appeals to be made by any of the 73 primary schools due to lose a teacher because of changes to how staff are appointed to small schools if they can show their pupil numbers will rise enough in the autumn to warrant keeping the teacher. However, groups lobbying against the cuts, likely to affect 250 schools in the next three years, vowed to continue campaigning.
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