€2m church bill sparks call for schools reform
CALLS for reform in how primary education is funded mounted yesterday as the management support body for Catholic-run schools defended controversial new membership fees.
The 2,900 Catholic primary schools have been asked to pay between €375-€875 per year for the services of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), amounting to a combined annual contribution of more than €2m.
The CPSMA said the fees were necessitated by the increasingly complex environment in which school boards of management operated, which in turn increased the level of need and demand on its services.
CPSMA general secretary Eileen Flynn said the boards were responsible, under the Education Act, for the management of their schools and were made up of voluntary members.
The boards were employers of teachers, secretaries, caretakers, special needs assistants, bus escorts and other support personnel, and had to deal with a wide variety of human resources issues, as well as health and safety and legal issues, she pointed out.
Ms Flynn said the CPSMA membership fee did not fund activities of the patron of the schools, the Catholic Church. The church is patron of 92pc of the country's primary schools.
Hard-pressed schools say they cannot afford to pay the fee, and claims it amounts to a subsidy for the church which once subsidised them.
Irish Primary Principals Network director Sean Cottrell said it made perfect sense that a management body needed to be funded to carry out its function, but this was a change from past practice.
Mr Cottrell claimed it was a symptom of how appallingly funded primary schools were and he called for national forum to discuss funding the primary education system.
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said there was a need for the church itself to devise a new system of organising religious schools in this country, and suggested new centralised educational trusts be set up to take control away from individual dioceses.
Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the demand from the CPSMA for funding from schools at a time of unprecedented cutbacks in our education system was "unbelievable''.