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Wednesday 28 June 2017

Church demands €2m fees from national schools

Cash-strapped principals must pay new €2m charge

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

CATHOLIC primary schools are furious after being hit with a new €2m-per-year demand for money from the church.

Cash-strapped principals say that, instead of the church subsidising them, they are now being asked to subsidise the church.

The new request for cash has come from the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), the Irish Independent has learned.

The body offers a management support service to almost 3,000 primary schools run by the Catholic Church.

The CPSMA has advised schools of a new annual membership fee, which they are expected to pay by the end of the month for the current school year.

The move comes at a time when the Catholic Church itself is under considerable financial pressure, attracting smaller congregations.

It is facing substantial payouts to abuse victims, particularly in the wake of the Ryan Report into clerical sex abuse which was published a year ago this week.

But the CPSMA's demand for money has sparked outrage among school communities, who are furious at the scale of the fees, and the lack of consultation.

Schools are already struggling to make ends meet in the face of education cutbacks -- and will now pay up to €4.75 per pupil to the church every year. They already have to fundraise and seek contributions from parents to top up state funding.

There are also murmurings of discontent in local diocesan offices, which are the traditional funding link between the church and its schools.

School leaders say the new CPSMA requirement turns on its head traditional funding arrangements between the Catholic Church and its primary schools.

But CPSMA secretary general Eileen Flynn said they needed to fund a more professional service for its schools.

There are 3,200 primary schools in Ireland and 92pc are run by the Catholic Church, with the remainder Protestant or non-denominational.

The CPSMA has recently recruited two extra staff and has 22,000 volunteers on boards of management.

The new fees amount to €325 for a school with 100 pupils or fewer, €475 for a school with 101 to 250 pupils, €675 for a 251-400 pupil school, and €875 for those with 401 pupils or more.

Based on that scale of fees, the annual value of the combined contribution from the Catholic primary schools would be in excess of €2m.

The CPSMA said its services to schools have been greatly expanded and that it now relies on membership fees from boards of management to defray the costs of providing those services.

In a circular to primary schools, it said it would be appreciated if payment by cheque could by made by the end of the month.

Ms Flynn said the CPSMA was not a profit-making organisation and their purpose was to deliver a service to schools and to break even. She said while the new fee represented a change from past practice, the situation "has changed in the past five years" and they had to deal with issues such as employment legislation.

"We are talking about volunteers trying to run organisations, work that they are doing very well. In order to do that, they need support," she said.

Control

Boards of management in Catholic schools operate under the control of the bishops and the local parish priest is usually the chairperson.

Catholic schools used to receive funding from the local parish to help meet running costs, but it stopped within the past decade. At one stage it amounted to about 25pc of costs, but then changed to a per-pupil rate of about €10, subsequently reduced to about €6 or €7. There was also a former practice of schools paying a fee of 50c to €1 per pupil to the CPSMA, to fund its work as the patron body.

However, principals said that it was erratic, and while some schools paid the fee, others did not. Some had it paid on their behalf out of parish or diocesan funds. In recent years, fewer schools paid it because of funding difficulties.

One principal last night said that the new request for money was "a very heavy-handed top-down request for money from the church. Up to a number of years ago, the church paid money into schools, now they want schools to pay the church."

Another principal said: "We cannot afford to take a financial hit like this. No money has ever gone out of my board of management to the CPSMA, nor am I aware of many other schools where that is the case, and now I am being asked for €675."

Irish Independent

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