Published: 10:15, 19 December 2007
A RE-ORGANISATION of primary schools in Kent that led to wide-ranging closures and mergers has cost the county council nearly £370,000 in redundancy and early retirement payouts.
The closure and merger of primary schools right across the county was sparked by falling pupil numbers and formed part of a controversial strategy aimed at removing about 6,000 primary school places.
Education chiefs said maintaining empty classrooms was costing them £2million a year and forecast that the decline in pupil numbers would become even worse with as many as 18,000 spare places by 2010.
It has now emerged it cost KCC more than £300,000 in redundancy payments to more than 60 staff, including headteachers and classroom assistants, who lost their jobs. A futher £54,000 was spent on early retirement packages.
The individual sums paid out ranged from a few hundred pounds to more than £28,000 while three of those who qualified for early retirement packages received more than £19,000 each.
The opposition Labour group at County Hall expressed concern at the figure and said Kent had paid the price in losing valuable and experienced staff.
Education spokesman Cllr Christine Angell (Lab) said: "I am very concerned as this means less teachers and support workers working with our children. It was traumatic for all our staff to go through the experience of the primary strategy."
Cllr Mark Dance (Con), KCC cabinet member for education operations, said KCC had always expected to make redundancy payments but emphasised it would be a one-of cost to the taxpayer.
"Whatever way you looked at it, we always came back to the fact that we needed to do something about falling rolls. When you merge schools, it will always result in losing one of the headteachers and there will always be some fallout," he said.
However, many staff from schools that closed often ended up working in newly-merged schools, he added.
KCC has recently produced a report setting out how falling rolls in secondary schools are beginning to bite in several parts of the county, with an estimated 8,200 surplus places needing to be removed by 2017.