Southampton schools must fill £450k gap

Daily Echo: Schools ordered to fill £450k gap Schools ordered to fill £450k gap

CASH-strapped council bosses are to force schools across Southampton to pay nearly half a million pounds towards the upkeep of three city secondaries against their wishes.

Head teachers rejected an “unfair” plea to help bail out Southampton City Council over the rising cost of a deal with a private firm to build and run three schools.

But the city’s education boss has admitted it is “likely” she will now insist £450,000 is taken out of schools’ collective budgets as the council desperately tries to plug a £28m hole in its finances.

Angry heads have warned losing cash will jeopardise important projects and could even impact on the number of teachers they can employ.

“Schools are unwilling to contribute because they feel it is unfair and they are concerned that it will set a precedent for future years,” said one head teacher, who asked not to be named.

And the council’s former Tory education chief, Jeremy Moulton, said he fears over-ruling school leaders risks seriously undermining the relationship with heads.

The influential Schools Forum – a panel of schools’ representatives – voted down a plan to contribute towards the £80m, 30-year contract that saw Cantell, Redbridge and Woodlands schools rebuilt a decade ago.

When the deal was signed the council agreed to cover the balance of the yearly cost that wasn’t covered by Government grants and contributions from the three schools. But that has spiralled from £700,000 to £1.2m As revealed by the Daily Echo, the council initially asked schools to cover the entire £1.2m it pays towards the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal with Interserve, which also sees cash provided by the Government and the three schools.

When that was rejected, council bosses asked for £450,000, which represents the amount the contract has grown by.

Councillor Moulton said the issue of school funding has been brought forward to be examined by the council’s scrutiny panel, which he chairs, on Thursday.

City education boss Councillor Sarah Bogle said she believes schools wouldn’t be seriously impacted by the move, which is necessary to help the council cope with the impact of Government funding cuts.

She said: “We’ve got to bridge that gap. I could have said we were taking £1.2m, but I thought, on balance, that’s probably too much to ask. We’ve had a long and very mature debate, and I think there’s a much better understanding.

“We will be looking to renegotiate the contract. At the moment that doesn’t look likely, but we can certainly try, although it’s not going to be resolved between now and February.”

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