28/02/2006

Belfast Education and Library Board to vote on £4m budget cut

The Belfast Education and Library Board is being asked to approve a number of cuts, estimated to be in the region of £4 million.

It is understood that the huge cutbacks have been called for due to falling student numbers in Belfast area schools. Numbers are dropping faster than in any other area in the UK.

If these cuts go ahead, it is likely that the hardest hit provision would be special needs where unit closures and redundancies could save an estimated £1 million.

It is also expected that up to 100 jobs may be lost, with school-crossing patrols likely to be hit in the process.

The School of Music in Belfast may also experience job cuts, and the cost of school dinners may also have to be increased.

Prior to today’s crunch BELB meeting, Ulster Unionists have voiced their opposition to plans, which could mean swingeing cuts for Belfast schools.

In a statement, Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson David McNarry said: “I think we need a little more honesty from the department. The government made much of its £28 million commitment to special needs at the time of the draft budget. But we now know that special needs provision in Belfast faces major cuts.

“At around the same time, Angela Smith talked about getting teacher development right. But in reality we now know that teachers face redundancies.

“I am shocked and appalled. Parents and professionals need the reassurance of knowing that their local school is sustainable; that it has a viable future. Slapping a pair of fiscal handcuffs on Boards will not improve the educational outcomes for our children."

Mr McNarry concluded by saying that this instability has dragged on for too long and that the government now needs to decide precisely how it plans to invest in children.

(EF/SP)

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