Over 1,000 letters sent to Minister for school merger plan

Story by Seamus Enright

Saturday, 9th February, 2019 7:45am

Over 1,000 letters sent to Minister for school merger plan

Some of the letters of protest sent to the Minister.

Human resource efficiencies are cited a lead advantage in the rationale behind a proposal to merge two local post-primary schools in West Cavan, The Anglo-Celt has learned.

Contained in the opening pages of 'Demographic Considerations for Single CMETB school in West Cavan' is the claim: ‘Current classes in many subject areas could be facilitated by a single teacher rather than two teachers (one per school) that presently exists’ at St Bricin’s in Belturbet and St Mogue’s in Bawnboy.
Compiled by the organisation's Director of Schools, Paddy Flood, his report states an amalgamation would: 'Provide an opportunity for significantly more efficient use of human resources on a long-term basis'.
In place of the two schools, Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board (CMETB) envisages building a new state-of-the-art school in neighbouring Ballyconnell.
It’s estimated the new facility would cost in the region of €15 million, with early expectations it will be open by 2023.
The matter is currently before the Minister for Education Joe McHugh who has sought further information from the CMETB on the proposal. The Minister, meanwhile, has some 1,000 letters of objection on his desk from members of the communities affected.
According to a Department reply received by a member of the community, Minister McHugh has expressed 'concerns' in respect of the 'levels of consultation with the community and relevant stakeholders' over the proposed two-school merger.
Mr Flood's report, obtained by the Celt along with a raft of other documents following a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, states 'some subjects' are already currently 'under threat' in both schools, while the provision of classes in Music is simply 'not possible'.
The report is dated October 2, 2018, a full month before the merger proposal was unveiled to stunned local representatives at the Hotel Kilmore, and later backed by Board members at their meeting in the Slieve Russell Hotel.
The report received by the Celt is heavily redacted (blacked out) in places. But it does shed light on some key aspects, including that the merger is grounded on a so-called ‘forcefield analysis’ of educational, economic and demographic factors in the West Cavan area.
An advantage of a ‘single cohesive educational site’ the report says, is to provide ‘direction and sustainability’ for post-primary education ‘for decades’ to come.
Further advantages, cited by the CMETB, are an easing of the number of students currently leaving West Cavan to go to school in places such as the county town ‘where schools are already under pressure to provide places’ for a growing enrolment.
'The envisaged new school with appropriate technology and sporting facilities would become a significant resource for the community in West Cavan and would be available for use outside of school hours. This is lacking at present', the report states.
Aside from the initial 'considerable' capital investment, the only other disadvantage of the merger considered by Mr Flood is that students on the periphery of Belturbet and Bawnboy may still 'find it more convenient to attend schools' outside the new school's catchment area.
Enrolment at St Mogue’s has risen by 13% in the past five years; while St Bricin's has fallen 12%, but Mr Flood admits in his report there is 'scope' for a 'significant increase' in enrolments at the latter.
He concedes that the current state of buildings at St Bricin’s has been cited by some parents as a basis for not enrolling students in the past.
There are more than 1,250 potential students available to St Bricin’s and St Mogue’s from 'feeder schools' according to a breakdown of 17/18 national pupil figures contained in the report.
Among the documents contained in the FOI that are redacted is a letter to George Gilliland, Land and Buildings Manager with CMETB, with a sub-title 'General Land Prices Ballyconnell'.
The Celt understands a number of site options are currently being explored by CMETB, among them the former AW Ennis milling site at Doon, which was vacated by the local company almost a decade ago, and another site located on the Belturbet Road.
Responding to a series of questions put to CMETB last week concerning the contents of Mr Flood's report, CEO John Kearney told the Celt that the organisation is “fully committed” to maintaining teacher numbers based on pupil enrolments as per Department of Education guidelines within both schools.
Mr Kearney further stressed that CMETB is fully committed to “engaging extensively” with local communities regarding the proposed merger. “CMETB has already met with a number of interest groups from the Ballyconnell area and is due to meet with the St Mogue’s Parents Association next week. Further meetings are currently being arranged with strong support for the new school being voiced.”
Mr Kearney, who believes the development of a new school is a real “statement of ambition”, added that the CMETB is “satisfied with enrolment projections” of both schools at this early stage and “will provide further details closer to the commencement of the school year.”
More than 1,000 letters in two separate tranches have been delivered to the Department of Education in recent weeks from members of communities in Belturbet and Bawnboy opposing the merger plan.
Most recently, a group named 'Save Our Schools' posted on social media:

It follows 200 letters posted from Belturbet the previous week, which the group said were 'all signed by individual members of the community lodging their objection'.

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