TEACHERS’ pay and pensions cost €45 million more than expected last year despite Government efforts to cut costs in the public service.
The €1 billion pension bill for retired teachers and staff of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) and institutes of technology was €30m more than the Department of Education had allowed for in its 2010 budget.
“Due to the current economic climate, a higher number than anticipated retired in 2010,” a department summary of its provisional 2010 spending says.
The report also points to a €15m overspend on the salaries of teachers and special needs assistants at the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools. While only 0.4% over the budget allocated of more than €3.5bn, officials attribute a significant amount of the excess to additional substitution costs arising from the use of more qualified teachers in cases where schools previously employed unqualified people as substitutes at lower rates of pay.
Another factor was a rise in the number of maternity leave applications, which would have further increased costs of substitutes and teachers employed on fixed-term contracts.
Despite political concerns last year that a large proportion of her capital budget would go unspent, Education Minister Mary Coughlan’s officials paid out almost €2m more than the €781.9m allocation. However, €62m of her capital budget for primary schools had to be moved to the third level sector in the final weeks of 2010 rather than be taken back by the Department of Finance.
A similar underspend on primary schools of €79m in 2009 was carried into last year by Ms Coughlan’s predecessor, Batt O’Keeffe, but the Department of Finance no longer allows other departments to carry over such capital underspends from one year to the next.
The Department of Education saved €20m overall on its 2010 allocation of almost €8.75bn for current and capital spending. The major savings included €5m less than expected spent on schools funding because enrolments in primary and second level were less than projected, and a similar underspend on school transport due to reduced driver costs and re-organisation of services.
The Irish Examiner reported last October that the department has not ruled out An Bord Snip Nua’s proposal to save money by closing small rural primary schools and amalgamating them with larger schools.
However, following reports that such a move is being considered, Ms Coughlan’s spokesperson said she is strongly opposed to closing small schools, which are the subject of a value-for-money review in her department.
The 2009 public spending review said the closure of 659 schools with less than 50 pupils could save €18m a year in teacher salaries alone, but these and other savings would be partially offset by additional building and transport costs.
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