Schools’ water bills to rise as grants delayed

HALF of the country’s schools face spiralling water bills this winter after funding promised nearly a year ago to allow them to significantly reduce their usage failed to materialise.

Around 1,500 schools applied to the Department of Education for the water conservation grants that would have funded automatic controls on urinals, systems to reduce water used when flushing toilets and hand basin taps that minimise water flow.

The scheme was announced by former education minister Batt O’Keeffe last October and it was indicated to schools that money would be approved to allow the work to take place during the summer.

Ironically, in a letter circulated to schools in recent weeks, the department pointed out how water conservation measures could save up to €2,100 a year at a typical 250-pupil school.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said this was astonishing coming from the department, as the figures show that more than €3 million could have been saved at schools in the coming year if the grants were approved on time.

“Instead, boards of management will have to go to parents and ask for this extra money out of their pockets. It could be far better spent on resources for classrooms, like books to supplement the department’s inadequate funding for loan schemes, or on computers and education software,” an INTO spokesperson said.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the March 2010 date for successful schools to be notified was for the summer works scheme, for which applications were also invited last summer, rather than the water conservation grants.

She said schools which are to get the grants will be announced later this year.

But previous statements by Mr O’Keeffe and documents sent to schools clearly indicate the plan was that works funded by the water grants could have gone ahead this summer.

Prior to the introduction of the EU directive in January, which will see schools charged for water at the same rates as businesses, they were charged a flat fee of €4 for every student by their local councils. This meant a school with 250 pupils had an annual bill of €1,000.

But now, a school without proper water-saving systems and where a council imposes charges of €2.16 per cubic metre and a €95 annual meter fee faces bills of over €3,300. The same school could reduce this to just over €1,200 if the proposed conservation measures were put in place and students adopt best practices, according to the department.

However, the INTO also pointed out that the additional cost could be much more than the €2,106 difference in areas where councils charge higher rates.


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