Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Schools 'hit-list' concerns after redundancy U-turn

DUP's Mervyn Storey
DUP's Mervyn Storey

A school that has been careful with its spending could now end up on a Department of Education 'hit-list' for being financially unviable after a massive blunder over redundancies, an MLA has claimed.

The DUP's education spokesman Mervyn Storey made the claim after it emerged that dozens of teachers promised redundancy this summer suddenly discovered they may have to work on.

The news has caused turmoil in schools which have already made budget plans based on the redundancies, but who now find they may have to continue to pay the salaries if teachers are forced to remain.

It would have cost around £6m to honour the commitment – but just days before the end of term Education Minister John O'Dowd reneged on those deals citing budget difficulties. It has also emerged that the department is sitting on a £29m contingency fund.

Mr Storey, chairman of Stormont's education scrutiny committee, explained that one school that had been "financially prudent" was now facing a deficit of £100,000 at the end of its three-year budget.

That primary school would now be classed as "financially unviable" and "put on a hit-list because of mismanagement by the department", he claimed.

He said that the "shameful" issue must be resolved by the end of today, adding that teachers' lives had been "decimated" by the department's "mismanagement of the situation".

"Let's dispense with this myth that the coffers of the department are sitting bare," Mr Storey said. The Education Committee yesterday wrote an urgent letter to Mr O'Dowd about the "unacceptable and continuing delays regarding teacher redundancies".

The letter stated: "The committee finds it remarkable and disappointing that the department chose to delay providing clarity to teachers in this regard until near the end of the school year."

The committee called on the minister to immediately reallocate funds from the £29m 'set aside' fund to allow outstanding redundancies to proceed.

The SDLP's Sean Rodgers said principals had been left with the prospect of having to retain staff they could no longer afford, while Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said teachers had been left demoralised.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "The minister is exploring all options available to him in a bid to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

Factfile

If redundancy packages are no longer on offer, schools face having to redo their budgets and find the money to continue to pay teachers who were expecting to leave.

That extra cost, tens of thousands of pounds a year, could move some schools from surplus to deficit.

Schools already had to reduce overheads because budgets had been reduced following changes to the Common Funding Formula.

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