independent

Saturday 30 August 2014

Schools to struggle to pay heating bills

Anne Campbell

Published 07/05/2014 | 05:20

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Peter Kierans, Chief Executing of the Louth Meath Education and Training Board.

VOCATIONAL schools in Louth, including Bush and O Fiaich College in Dundalk, are facing a funding crisis that could see the board in charge of them run out of cash and be in €2 million debt by the end of this year, The Argus can reveal.

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VOCATIONAL schools in Louth, including Bush and O Fiaich College in Dundalk, are facing a funding crisis that could see the board in charge of them run out of cash and be in €2 million debt by the end of this year, The Argus can reveal.

The chief executive of the Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) Peter Kierans revealed the shocking state of the schools' finances at a meeting of the board last Thursday and told The Argus today (Tuesday) that increased numbers of students, along with government cuts, mean that vocational schools in Louth and Meath could struggle to pay their heating and lighting costs towards the end of this year.

But Mr. Kierans said students will be protected against the cuts by the board taking out an overdraft, which would need approval from the education minister.

The budget from government, which covers administration and supports such as electricity in schools, has been slashed by 12 per cent in 2014 and this, coupled with an increase in costs of around six per cent a year means the LMETB has taken an effective drop of 20 per cent in its budget.

Mr. Kierans said: 'We have very little discretion about how the money is spent – it's for heat, light, upkeep, etc. – and most of the purchasing is done centrally for best value, but we have very little scope to make up the shortfall.

'We will run out of money before the end of this year. It is a critical situation and schools will stretch the money as far as possible, but we may have to take out an overdraft which will need ministerial permission.

'In addition to cost over-runs last year of about €1 million which we are carrying into 2014, we would need an additional €1 million this year too. Many of the other boards in this sector have similar, and worse, financial problems.

'The last thing we want to do is to close schools and it could come to the point in December where we are €2 million in debt. But we are trying to sort the problem out early on in the year, and not hitting the panic button.

'A number of small modification projects at our schools have been put on ice. The very last line is any impact on students. Throughout the whole downturn, since 2007, we have kept services going and our teachers have been exceptionally dedicated in doing that'.

Cllr. Tomas Sharkey who is a LMETB board member said he was shocked that the 'very basics are in danger'.

He said: 'The least families can expect is that when they send their children to school there will be light and heat, but austerity is putting these basics in jeopardy'.

The Argus

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