Primary school principals have warned they may not be able to meet the cost of surging energy bills this winter.
Seamus O’Connor, principal of Scoil Bhríde in Midleton, Co Cork, said his school is facing a huge increase in the cost of electricity and gas for the period of October to March.
And he said his school will not be relying on voluntary contributions from already hard-pressed parents to pay for its heating and lighting and its water this winter.
The school has 400 pupils with just over 50 staff, including 32 teachers and 15 SNAs.
Mr O’Connor said he estimated it cost between €12,000 and €16,000 to heat the school from last October to March.
“And I’m estimating a 30pc to 35pc increase in both bills,” he said. “So, that is a huge surge for the school and to this point the school is not planning to receive any additional support in relation to this.”
Primary school management bodies, representing about 3,300 schools, have jointly called for an immediate 50pc increase in the basic pupil capitation rate, warning that “schools cannot survive” on the current rates.
Mr O’Connor said he does not know how his school will cope with spiralling energy bills without any additional Government funding.
He told the Irish Independent: “In August 2020, to be fair to the Government, there was an increased fiscal package to support schools in relation to PPE gear.
“Personally, as part of the national principals’ forum, we would be calling for an equivalent fiscal scheme to be put in place for this winter to support schools.”
Mr O’Connor said the school will “absolutely not” seek any form of voluntary contribution from parents this year to cover costs.
He said: “Fundamentally we do not want to go to the well of parents and look for them in November and December to start fundraising to support us. We would like this to be secured now, particularly in the Budget.
“We want to focus on supporting our children and our families rather than having to worry about the cost of things.”
Bryan Collins, principal of Scoil Naomh Feichin in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, said many schools are concerned they will not be able to survive the costs needed to keep their buildings open this winter.
He warned that schools will face even higher energy bills should strict Covid-19 regulations be reintroduced which require them to keep doors and windows open, allowing heat to escape from classrooms much faster.
In 2010, the recessionary budget decreased the capitation grant per child from €200 to €183 and this hasn’t changed since.
“Many schools rely on controversial voluntary contributions from families to keep schools fully functional because the annual capitation grant rarely comes close to covering all the basic bills,” Mr Collins said.
“Energy costs are soaring and schools will be reluctant to turn to families for financial support as these same families are struggling themselves to cover the increases in their cost of living.
“Unfortunately, Covid-19 is still present in the community and we are beginning to hear about some cases appearing in schools once again.
“As we go through this autumn and winter we may still be required to follow the protocol of opening windows and doors to increase ventilation in confined spaces like classrooms. Schools will inevitably need to use more heating which will mean increased energy costs.
“Having recently reviewed our end of year accounts for the school year 2021-22, Scoil Naomh Feichin spent well over half of the annual capitation grant on light, heat and insurance costs. What remained of the grant had to cover all other school expenses.
“Primary principals are starting this term with a feeling of trepidation as we know that we are going to be under pressure financially should energy prices continue to rise and we experience another wave of Covid.
“Possible power cuts in the community over the winter months would also be a problem for schools as it would be impossible to teach classes in buildings without light, heat or hot water. Obviously, we are really hoping that this scenario does not come to pass and that we can get through the next few months without disruption.”