An academy trust in South Gloucestershire has asked its teachers for ideas on how to deal with its forecast financial deficit.
Claire Emery, chair of the board of trustees of the Ridings' Federation of Academies, emailed staff confidentially to request their proposals on potential cost-saving measures.
But unions say staff are worried for their jobs and furious that the management has put them in a position of proposing cuts.
The news comes after schools in Cumbria were asked to find ways to cut their budgets to help the county council fill the hole caused by its projected £8 million overspend on the budget for children with high needs.
In South Gloucestershire, Wendy Exton, national executive member of the NASUWT union, said: "I have seen the original email. That states there is a £1 million deficit. Asking staff where they could make cuts is not appropriate. People are worried about their jobs."
The Ridings' Federation runs the Winterbourne International Academy, a secondary, and the Yate International Academy, an all-through school. Both schools have been judged by Ofsted as requiring improvment.
In a statement, published on the schools' website, Ms Emery said that the federation is dealing with a deficit and that "this correspondence was sent to facilitate a collaborative approach to seek the best outcome in the circumstances".
She added that: “The subsequent feedback from staff members will be considered and responded to in the correct forum but I want to reassure all staff, pupils and parents of pupils attending the Ridings’ academies that the federation is committed to supporting its staff and to ensuring that all of its pupils receive excellent learning.”
The letter adds that the predicted financial position at the end of this academic year is one of the “strategic challenges” the board faces and that it is taking action.
Deficit 'should be written off'
Nigel Varley, joint divisional secretary of the South Gloucestershire NUT, said: "All staff were sent this email from the chair of the trust, which was a bit unusual. It said the trust had a £1 million deficit which needs to be paid back over five years.
"The situation in schools is so tight at the moment that they can't do it, not without serious consequences in terms of the class sizes or curriuculum, and that would make the situation worse. We want to find out how they got into this situation. But what needs to happen is that deficit is written off. It is unpayable without damaging the school."
He said that while openness over the school's financial situation was laudable, the union objected to asking staff what should be cut.
"It pits people against each other," he said. "We don't advise people to join in a cutting exercise. This is an academy problem – it is something the government needs to provide the answer to."
In an updated statement published yesterday, Ms Emery said the trust was committed to supporting all of its staff.
A spokesman for the Ridings' Federation said it was important to point out that the £1 million deficit was an initial projected figure for August 2017 and not its current financial status.
He said: "However, the Academy Trust were keen to address this projection immediately to avoid it from happening at all.
"The initial email sent by the Chair of the Trust two weeks ago was to provide transparency with staff and encourage a 'digital suggestion box'. There are of course concerns about this projected deficit, but the Academy Trust has been very pleased with the level of response and the support given by staff, parents and students."
He added that suggestions from staff had provided "a very good foundation" to work from. The academies, he said, were "continuing to operate as normal".