Writing off school debts placing budgets under greater strain
MASSIVE debts of closed schools are being written off placing greater strain on under pressure education funds.
In the most extreme cases, the Education Authority (EA) is being made swallow close to £1 million deficits incurred by schools.
Taking these losses on means less money for essential services including meals, maintenance and transport.
Documents from the EA show the extent of the problem.
The most recently published financial statements, for 2015/16, reveal how many schools were in the red, and how many were in the black.
There were 15 schools told they would be either closed or merged in 2015 - and they shared almost £2m in debt. Any closing deficits have to be written off in full from EA centre funds.
St Brigid's Boys High School in Armagh ended 2015/16 with a balance of -£755,015. Department of Education officials said this deficit was "forecast to rise to circa £1 million by the time of full closure".
Immaculate Conception College, the last Catholic secondary school on Derry's Waterside, began the school year more than £320,000 in debt. It shut down at the end of August 2015 with a deficit of £511,362.
The deficits of closing secondary schools were typically higher than primary schools.
The figures also revealed that the debts of schools that closed after 2015 were growing. Drumcree College in Portadown, which shut last year and was replaced by the new St John the Baptist College, was £1.3m in the red.
Also, St Eugene's in Roslea, which made way for the new St Kevin's College in Lisnaskea, had a balance of - £775,000.
One that was recommended for closure, but not approved, was Malvern PS in Belfast. The 2014/15 provisional outturn stated that the school held an increased deficit of –£292,803 at March 2015. The EA also projected this to increase to more than £400,000 by the end of the 2016/17 financial year.
The lower Shankill school was given a reprieve but told it must urgently address its budget.
It has been warned that the education system is facing a £350m funding gap by 2019/20 if it does not get more money.
Since 2011, it is estimated that there has been a reduction in the education budget of around £200m in real terms.
Schools that had been stockpiling money now want to use it to avoid making cuts.
It is estimated that more than 300 schools are a deficit in the current financial year.
In addition, those that have been saving money are seeing their surpluses being reduced.
The EA confirmed that the deficits of a closing or merging schools are met by the authority. A spokeswoman said this "impacts on the overall funding which the EA has to deliver services to children and young people".
EA chief executive Gavin Boyd has voiced concerns about the numbers of schools in debt.
"With pupil numbers rising and costs increasing, we now have over 300 schools in deficit. This reduces the funds available for other services like support for children with special educational needs," he said.
"Put simply, we do not have enough money to fund education as currently structured. In my view, the situation is going to get worse over the next few years.
"Education is fundamentally important to our young people, our community and our economy. We want to encourage everyone to participate in a well-informed debate about what we need from our education system to prepare our young people for the future and how we might resource that system."
CLOSING BALANCES OF SCHOOLS APPROVED FOR CLOSURE OR AMALGAMATION IN 2015
St Brigid's Boys High, Armagh -755,015
Immaculate Conception College, Derry -511,362
St Mary's Girls' High, Lurgan -369,198
Envagh PS, Castlederg -66,288
St Anthony’s PS, Bellarena -60,116
Gortnagarn PS, Omagh -47,403
Glenravel PS -34,115
Crievagh Primary School, Cookstown -32,401
St Paul's Junior High, Lurgan -25,983
Enniskillen Collegiate -25,489
St Mary's PS, Cargan -24,854
St Francis of Assisi PS, Castlederg -14,686
Avoniel Primary School, Belfast 0
Monkstown Community School 0
Newtownabbey Community High 0