By Kate Relihan, INTO Dublin North West, (personal capacity)
The government has backed down from imposing compulsory metered water bills on schools after anger and opposition from the teachers unions and parents to bills, some of which were as high as €10,000.
However, the government is determined to impose water charges on all schools and is implementing an incremental flat rate fee per pupil from 2007 until the full charges are imposed in 2010.
The fees for 2007 are €3 per pupil, €3.50 for 2008 and €4 in 2009. Minister for Education Mary Hanafin had promised a doubling of the schools’ capitation grant at last years INTO conference. Instead the government increased the grant by a miserly 20% – but even this small increase will be wiped out by the water charges.
This is an outrage as most primary and secondary schools are already crippled by decades of neglect and under-funding. Primary schools only receive €6,000 a year for running costs, and are wholly dependent on parents’ contributions to make up the shortfall, which for some schools runs into thousands. Parents are already forced to contribute to a litany of fundraising events to fill the gap between paltry state funding and real expenditure. This will inevitably have a huge impact on pupils, who will now have even less funding for crucial educational resources.
This inordinate stealth tax, which parents shall inevitably have to pay, is an absolute disgrace and the government‘s attempts to use the EU Water Framework Directive as an excuse for imposing water charges on schools is even more nauseating. The government also claims that it is the best way to improve water conservation in schools. What utter nonsense. The best way to improve water conservation in schools is by educating our children, not by financially penalising their parents!
Implementation of these charges should be met with outright opposition. An organised, nationwide campaign of teachers, parents and pupils against the water charges can defeat them. Schools should refuse to pay the charges, including the flat rate charge. This is the best way to force the government to scrap them.
If Fianna Fail and their Green partners get their way we will all be paying water charges and as Mary Hanafin said herself – “If we had water rates in Ireland families would be paying €700 to €800 per annum”.