Belfast Telegraph

Cash crisis school may shut if funds aren't available to retire 4 teachers

By Lindsay Fergus

A post-primary school has warned that it faces closure after four of its teachers were turned down for the Department of Education's voluntary redundancy scheme to cut costs in financially struggling schools, it has emerged.

The integrated school already has a deficit of more than £90,000 but is facing a financial crisis as it has to fund the salaries of four teachers it had hoped would be given redundancy.

That cost could leave the grant maintained school, which relies on the bank for financial support, £200,000 in debt in 2014/15.

The dire situation was brought to light yesterday at an emergency meeting of the Stormont education committee.

Committee chairman, Mervyn Storey reconvened the committee following the "absolute shambles" that led to 30 teachers being told last week that their redundancy packages had been postponed because of department funding problems.

Those teachers had to wait until last Thursday – the day before schools closed for summer – to learn that Education Minister John O'Dowd had decided to release the necessary funds after a public outcry.

The Belfast Telegraph understands the minister has been made aware of the situation facing the school, which was not named.

He was told last week that "the news that the redundancies may not be financed has put the school under incredible pressure and the principal believes the school could end up facing closure if the bank refused to provide support".

The teachers are four of 91 teachers, according to officials, who have not met the criteria for the redundancy scheme.

That could be because their school is not in a "challenging financial position" with a deficit of more than 5% of their overall school budget or £75,000 in the red (whichever is the greater), or that the school they work in is not reducing its number of full-time equivalent teaching posts.

But La'Verne Montgomery from the department told members that officials were now "further scrutinising" the 91 applications to see if any "may be deemed to meet the criteria". But she admitted that the department had no money to fund the redundancies.

Committee members including the SDLP's Sean Rodgers called on the department to release £10m from its £29m contingency fund to facilitate redundancies.

But the department's director of finance, Trevor Connolly, said the minister was "keeping the £29m set aside for welfare reform". He added that Mr O'Dowd had bid in the June monitoring round for an additional £50m, including £10m for redundancies.

The department stated that it would cost just over £6m to fund the 167 redundancies – so far 76 teachers have been approved meaning it would cost around £3m to fund the other 91.

Mr Storey, also the DUP education spokesman, said: "It's shameful that any department would use teachers as a political pawn.

"There's an attempt by the department to shift the blame to managing authorities and boards of governors of schools."

Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan replied: "This is not the most serious issue to face education."

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