UP TO 1,500 staff are at risk of losing their jobs if fee-paying schools join the free education scheme, it was claimed.
Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), warned of "major repercussions" if private schools drop fees, including a danger that ancilliary workers privately employed by those schools could be laid off.
That would hit staff like gardeners and maintenance workers.
The Irish Independent yesterday reported on how 12 private schools are in talks about dropping fees, amid a drop in pupil numbers in the fee-paying sector.
They also face pressure from government decisions to reduce the number of teachers on their staff that the State is prepared to pay for.
Mr Kelly said: "It is unfortunate that the change in government policy in relation to student-teacher ratios has led to some schools finding themselves in difficulty. At any time it would be illogical for the Government to take on the fee-paying schools, but resources are scarce and there is less money available for all schools at the moment. The Budget is unlikely to increase that.
"The State should continue serving the parents that choose to send their children to fee-paying schools," he said.
The JMB previously backed a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that claimed fee-paying schools save the State money.
According to that study, a private school student costs the Government almost €3,500 less a year than a student in the free education scheme.
He said that the main focus of the JMB is "parental choice" and fee-paying schools offer that choice to parents.
Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor said: "I can categorically say that parents are finding it hard to pay fees.
"They made commitments, but now their lives have changed, and it's not as easy," she added.
Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain said: "What the State should be doing is focusing on the 93pc of schools that are already free education schools and ensuring they are funded."