A SENIOR councillor has admitted schools in West Fife may have to shut to help Fife Council save �90 million by 2015.
The desperate need to slash costs places a question mark over small village schools, those well below capacity or with dilapidated older buildings.
Fife Council currently runs 19 high schools and 143 primary schools but Douglas Chapman said they were prepared to make "unpopular decisions". The chair of the education and children's services committee said firm proposals are at least a year away and pupils' education must not suffer.
But change looks inevitable.
Education may have to find up to �27 million in savings over three years and Councillor Chapman said, "We want to try and maintain the good record we've set in education with high levels of attainment, achievement and good behaviour.
"It's all heading in the right direction but it's how we maintain that with a huge cut in the budget.
"It's a major undertaking to maintain the schools we've got and running two schools that are half-full, especially if just a short distance apart, is not good economics." He continued, "It may be the better investment is to spend it in one school and ask pupils to go there.
"Or, if the community were up for it, to consider closing two older schools and building one new school.
"It's not just about closing schools to make a saving, it has to be in the best interests of the pupils and learners." Councillor Chapman said investment in education was at an all-time high in Fife with �126 million invested in building new schools and a further �6 million spent over the last three years maintaining the current buildings.
But the scale of the cuts - having already made sizeable cuts in recent years - means they're having to think the unthinkable.
Councillor Chapman said, "Probably one of the most difficult things is to try and close a school as parents become very worried about the future of their child's education.
"That's why, at the moment, what we're trying to do is look at the buildings we do have, look at the capacity and age of the building.
"We won't accept a lowering of education standards but how we then make the savings is the real crux of the problem." The SNP councillor acknowledged that the very possibility of school closures would be highly controversial and give opposition politicians plenty of ammunition to attck the SNP/Lib Dem council administration.
But he said, "There are elections in May but my impression is that the opposition parties are thinking along the same lines.
"We'll see how they react but even if there's a different administration after the election, they will face the same problem and have to look at this too.
"Anyone that is critical, I would ask 'what's your alternative?'.
"We are fast running out of alternatives because of the scale of the cuts." Councillor Chapman continued, "The bottom line is people are quite happy to discuss these measures until it affects them directly, where it's their school or community centre.
"Then there's a campaign on to try and save it. We need to get beyond that over the next two-to-three years.
"My main concern is how we take the communities with us and we need a mature discussion about what's ahead.
"There are a number of options but we need them to buy into it or we'll just be at each other's throats." Councillor Chapman said education and social work budgets had been spared from the worst cuts in the past and that the council would have to make big savings in other departments too.
"Even where we have a need to provide a service by law we need to look at how we can deliver that service in a different, more efficient way," he said.
And he added, "Considering efficiencies and making radical changes in the way we do things shows we're taking our financial situation seriously, facing up to the pressures and are prepared to make difficult and perhaps unpopular decisions to keep educational standards high.
"We welcome serious debate on changing education services to meet modern, challenging times but our focus needs to remain on development and care for children and we owe it to every child in Fife to get it right."