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Schools will be £75 million in the red by 2019

By March 2019, schools will be running at a deficit of £75m

DEBTS are soaring out of control with schools predicted to be £75 million in the red in the next three years.

Hundreds of cash-strapped schools are careering towards serious financial difficulties, shock figures show.

Many are are struggling to tighten their belts because millions of pounds have been taken out of the system.

The amount of money given to schools in 2016/17 was about £1.2bn - about £10m less than the previous 12 months.

The Irish News yesterday revealed that every school in the north had its spending plans rejected by government, throwing budgets into disarray.

Education chiefs were forced to take the unprecedented move due to a "serious deterioration" in schools' finances.

Major changes to funding are taking their toll. Schools must now pick up the tab for increases in employers' contributions to national insurance and superannuation. Many warn this will cost them tens of thousands of pounds, with the cash coming straight out of their budget. For some, this means making staff redundant.

After being informed of their budget share, schools were asked to provide three-year spending plans to the Education Authority (EA).

Responding to an assembly question from education committee member Colin McGrath of the SDLP, minister Peter Weir said the EA rejected every single one - 1,112 schools due to "the increasing number projecting a deteriorating financial position".

Mr McGrath has since submitted a follow-up assembly question asking for the projected surplus/deficit figures for all schools for the next three years.

The total debt among those predicted to be in deficit at March next year is more than £33m. By March 2018, this is expected to rise to £55m and increase again to almost £75 by the end of the 2018/19 financial year.

Many other schools are predicted to be in surplus - but the overall total figure falls from £29m to £9m over the same period.

"These figures are clear evidence that our schools will face financial oblivion within three years unless urgent action is taken," Mr McGrath said.

"The department's response shows that by March 2019 our schools will be running at a deficit of £75m growing from this year's projected year end deficit of £33m. Surpluses aligned with these figures as part of the budget process for the same period show them reducing from £29m to £9m.

"With a £65m hole in our schools budgets in just two years time this information vindicates the education committee members who have been regularly raising this matter with the minister and his department. The minister must examine these figures and formulate a way to bring this massive deficit under control."

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