THE Department of Education has been hit with a bill for €50m after being taken by surprise by the level of teacher retirements this year.
The cost arose from the lump sum payments made to teachers, estimated at as much as €100,000 for many who chose to leave.
Now the department must find €50m as around 500 more teachers than it had budgeted for took early retirement.
It is understood there was a surge of retirements last month on top of those who left before February in order to get a better exit deal.
The exodus this year has far exceeded department estimates, and the amount of funding available to pay for it.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted yesterday that paying for the retirements was putting "very significant pressure" on his department budget for this year. In better days, the department could have sought extra money from the Government to meet such an unexpected cost through a supplementary estimate; however, that is no longer an option.
Mr Quinn told the Oireachtas committee on education that his department was "working hard to identify measures that can offset this upward pressure".
His officials are now going through other departmental budgets with a fine-toothed comb to see if there is any unspent or uncommitted cash they can use.
But at a time of severe education cuts, departmental war chests will be empty.
There may be flexibility in areas such as the school building programme.
For instance, if there was a delay in securing planning permission for a new school, construction work would be postponed and cash could be diverted.
But things might get so serious that the department could take a decision to delay spending on a project.
However, that would only be a temporary solution as it would simply move the cost to the following year's budget.
Under the special exit deal for public servants generally, some 1,350 primary and post-primary teachers bowed out before the end of February.
This ensured that their pension and tax-free lump sum would be based on their 2009 salary before pay cuts were imposed.
That figure was higher than anticipated, and the department believes that many of those planning to retire this year merely brought the date forward by several months.
However, while the final figures are not available, there was a further surge of retirements by the end of August, including many teachers who did not qualify for the deal in February because they did not have sufficient service.
Mr Quinn said the situation in relation to retirements and related costs would have to be monitored very closely again for next year.