A FERMANAGH principal says her school cannot make any more cutbacks in light of the Education Authority’s (EA) refusal to sign off on over 600 school budgets this year.
Esdelle Lappin, the principal at Belleek Controlled Primary School has questioned why the EA sent their letter of warning to 632 schools, just two months before the end of the financial year.
“I found it very frustrating to get the letter at such late stage in school financial year,” she told the Impartial Reporter, “By this stage we have already used up a lot of our budget and worked through the targets set for this year.”
In the letter the EA has offered to work with each individual school to address any issues in their budgets.
“I don’t know how they are going to meet with schools on a one to one basis and get things sorted out in such a short space of time,” said Mrs. Lappin.
All schools have had to submit three-year spending plans, covering the years 2017 to 2020 to the EA.
“I feel personally penalised as a school principal -- I did careful forward planning and managed to budget over the years to keep the school going. 
“You can’t have the children without their resources and we can’t pare back any more than we already have.
“If I have to pare back again it will mean having to make difficult decisions as regards staffing -- that is the very last option that I have now.”
Mrs. Lappin says she believes that further cuts for any of the 632 schools will mean “children will suffer most”.
“It could mean classroom assistants for children with autism and general classroom assistants for the likes of P1 classes may have to be cut in schools.”
Ulster Unionist representative and retired school principal, Rosemary Barton, says schools are being forced into impossible funding positions by the EA.
She said the current situation was untenable given that many of the schools have already “exhausted all reasonable cost reducing measures”.
“The problems in our local education system continue to grow by the day. Class sizes continue to swell, subjects are being cut, buildings are becoming increasingly run-down and shortfalls in school budgets now increase year-on-year.
“Our local education system faces annual increases in pay costs of approximately £60million and this has largely been passed on to school budgets in the previous three financial years. The subsequent impact has been schools experiencing major deficits in their annual budgets.
“We need an urgent review of wider education funding as it is clear the current model is increasingly not fit for purpose. 
“For instance, schools in Northern Ireland only receive 59 per cent of the actual education budget, far behind the levels of other UK regions, with the rest increasingly being consumed by a swathe of growing administrative bodies such as the Education Authority. 
“In financially difficult times such as these we must remember where the spending priorities should rest.”