A wrangle over who funds back pay owed to dozens of school support staff across Brighton and Hove has been put on hold for 18 months.
The time will be used by head teachers and Brighton and Hove City Council to try to reach an agreement on the sum which could total £3.8 million.
The council said that schools have legal responsibility for paying staff but heads’ representatives said that the money is owed because of a council mistake.
Payroll is one of a number of “central services” provided by the council for local state schools.
Letters started going out on Monday (21 October) to support staff who work term-time only and are owed up to a week’s back pay a year.
The council has said that it would split the bill, going half and half with schools and giving them up to 10 years to repay the cash.
Special schools would be worst hit because they employ more support staff. They face bills averaging almost £100,000 and may have to repay £9,500 a year.
The average bill for secondary schools is more than £62,000 and for primaries it would be about £25,000.
The back pay was found to be owing after a court case found in favour of support staff who worked term-time only.
Blatchington Mill head Ashley Harrold, who is also the deputy chair of the Schools Forum in Brighton and Hove, said: “Head teachers and schools around the city are unwilling to use the budget provided for the education of the cities children to pay for back pay claims that are due to errors made centrally by the local authority.
“In a city where all schools, including voluntary aided schools and academies, work together in partnership with the local authority and agree to follow joint advice from them on pay scales and pay calculations, we expect the local authority to fund the back pay that is due to employees from central funds.
“A wider concern is that the issue hits the schools hardest who best serve vulnerable young people, including those with high numbers of students with SEN (special educational needs).”
The National Association of Head Teachers is looking at taking legal and even industrial action over the issue.
Brighton and Hove Conservative leader Councillor Steve Bell said that he and his colleagues felt it was the council’s responsibility to find the £3.8 million.
Councillor Bell said that it was the council’s problem – not the schools’ – and he planned to raise the matter at the full council meeting at Hove Town Hall tomorrow (Thursday 24 October).
He said: “I feel quite disgusted by this when I see how much money is being thrown away on other things.
“It beggars belief when they go on about government funding cuts then they try to take this amount of money off the schools, going to come off children’s education.”
Labour councillor John Allcock, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said that the council’s priority was to ensure staff were paid promptly while also protecting schools.
He said: “The previous system had been used for many years and was established practice across the country. This ruling has had a major impact nationally and affects many staff locally.
“There is no national formula for working out exactly how much people are owed.
“So following formal negotiations with our trade unions we have reached a local agreement on how much our term-time only staff are owed.
“We are now doing everything we can to make sure all school staff affected are paid what is owed to them before the end of the year.
“We are writing to staff due a back payment on an individual basis to make sure we can sit down with them to agree the payment and do the paperwork needed to make this possible.
“In strict legal terms, the cost of these back pay liabilities falls to individual schools, not the council.
“We are very aware that school budgets are under a lot of pressure due to government cuts in education funding over the last 10 years.
“The same is true of the council. We’ve had massive reductions in government funding year on year.
“But we recognise that the back-pay liability is a big one-off financial burden for our schools that perform so well.
“So, despite the continuing funding reductions the council is facing, we are committed to sharing this financial burden with our schools.
“We have previously offered to pay 50 per cent of the back-pay liability. We have also previously offered to cover the other 50 per cent share of the bill for the schools and allow them to pay us back over a 10-year period.
“We are currently waiting for further information from the government about what funding they will be giving the council and our schools for next year before giving this further consideration.
“We have done this by making available reserves being held for future projects that aren’t needed in the short term.
“In addition, we have offered to suspend repayments during this financial year and the next one, while the individual settlements with staff and future government funding allocations are being worked out.
“We know schools face differing challenges, so we will look at each school’s needs on a case-by-case basis.
“We will be discussing this issue further with our head teachers at our next schools forum meeting.”
The forum, made up of head teachers, governors and early years representatives, is next due to meet on Monday 9 December.