A recommendation from the local authority management to divest the governance of the Laois School of Music from the Council to the Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB), has been halted, for the time being at least.
The proposal was on the agenda of the final meeting of the current Council. It was marked down as merely an item to be noted and was therefore expected to go through on the nod, on the last day of business for the 2014 to 2019 elected Council.
Bundled in with the recommendation was a similar proposal to wind up the Council’s own Third Level Committee and for that function also to be farmed out to the LOETB, formerly Laois VEC.
However, councillors were wary of the move and expressed the view that both proposals had been sprung on them without adequate notice or information.
Following some explanations from officials and discussion on the matter it was agreed to park both recommendations and to defer them as matters to be dealt with by the incoming Council, which will be elected on Friday.
It was Cllr Willie Aird who spoke up first and spoke out against the proposals. “Absolutely not, this is the first we have heard of this,” he insisted, not at all happy that the Council which had established and funded the Laois School of Music should now handed it over as it were to the LOETB.
The Chief Executive, John Mulholland said it wasn’t a question of walking away from the School of Music at all but it was a governance issue, it involved minors, the recruitment of staff and tutors, an educational function, which was more appropriate for the LOETB than the Council.
Mr Mulholland explained that the School of Music was dealing with increasing numbers and was beyond the capacity of the local authority in its functions but did not mean in any way that the role of the Council was weakened in anyway in relation to the school of music.
The CEO reminded members that there would be six councillors nominated as members of the LOETB and would retain a strong role.
He went on to outline that the arts and culture programme was more and more expansive and that there were risk management issues in question and the hiring of tutors.
“We don’t run schools per say. This is not the normal arrangement in place in other county’s this is an outlier and would be far better managed under the auspices of the LOETB,” he outlined.
Nevertheless, councillors were not happy with being rushed into such a decision and the view that the matter should be deferred prevailed.
“I totally oppose the farming out of the School of Music. Even in the teeth of a hard recession we provided resources here for the school. We saw what happened with tourism in Laois when we were side lined and removed from any involvement and now we are left with the lowest level of funding for tourism in the entire country,” said Cllr Brendan Phelan, who was adamant on the matter.
Cllr James Kelly called for more analyses before they make a decision. “We don’t have the full facts.”
“It’s an unsatisfactory position for myself as Chairman,” pointed out John Mulholland referencing his role on the Board of the Laois School of Music Company.
But the councillors were not for turning.
“On the last day of this Council, I’m surprised that this is coming up today,” said Cllr Aird who seconded Brendan Phelan’s proposal that the matter be postponed to the new Council.
Cllr Padraig Fleming and Mary Sweeney also expressed doubts about divesting the management of the School of Music.
Similarly, a management proposal to wind up the Council’s 3rd Level Committee was scuppered by the councillors.
Director-of-Services, Mr Donal Brennan asked that ‘the little known’ committee be ‘stood down’, explaining that it had scarcely met in recent times and that role too would be better pursued by the LOETB. He assured members that 3rd level outreach campuses were firmly on the agenda for Laois.
However, this proposal too the councillors baulked at and preferred to defer for the new Council to deal with, even though few if any appeared to have any knowledge of the Council’s 3rd Level Committee.