School closures would save SIC more than originally envisaged, says new report
The SIC would save more than £3.5 million from closing five secondary departments and five primary schools – even when the cost of transporting the children elsewhere is factored in – according to the latest figures from the schools service.
The updated picture will be presented to councillors on the education and families committee on Friday.
They requested more detail on transport and other costs at a meeting on 29th August held to seek approval for a series of consultations from next year on shutting secondary departments in Aith, Baltasound, Sandwick, Skerries and Whalsay and primary schools in Burravoe, North Roe, Olnafirth, Sandness and Urafirth by 2016.
The original estimate of the savings in the £46 million children’s services budget stood at £3.25 million, but the latest “indicative savings” figure, based on new and more detailed information, is £3.59 million. That figure is net of a transport budget of £391,408.
However, these figures do not include the costs of making “alternative transport” for children in remote places where bus services would not be able to get them to school within maximum journey times of 65 minutes (secondary) or 40 minutes (primary). That, according to an appendix to the report for councillors by head of children’s services Helen Budge, would be required for some Aith, Baltasound, Urafirth and Sandwick pupils.
In her report, Mrs Budge states she recognises that previous school closure proposals have caused “great upset” in the community as it is a “very emotive” topic for everyone involved.
At a meeting of Aith Parent Council on 27th August education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said the proposed closures were about saving the council money.
But during a visit to the isles that week education minister Mike Russell reminded the council that it had to make a strong educational case for any closures.
Mrs Budge says that were the service to retain the existing number of schools, it could not afford to continue resourcing and staffing existing schools to meet the requirements of the Curriculum for Excellence, in other words failing to close the earmarked schools would have a detrimental effect on the education of all children.
The council says it saved more from the closures of Scalloway secondary department and Uyeasound Primary School than it had envisaged.
The revised savings figures for the secondary departments are as follows: Aith £715,941 (up from £690,000 and net of transport costs of £114,000); Baltasound £520,371 (down from £580,000; transport £15,200); Sandwick £907,790 (down from £1.1 million; transport £165,300); Skerries £81,404 (up from £70,000; transport £2,820); Whalsay £704,784 (up from £570,000; transport £13,860).
And for the primaries: Burravoe £78,220 (up from £50,000; transport £0); North Roe/Urafirth/Urafirth nursery class £259,670 (up from £85,000; transport £39,900); Olnafirth £167,098 (up from £80,000; transport £22,800).
The figures will be debated on Friday before committee members decide whether to recommend to the Full Council going ahead with the closure consultations.