The Richmond Board of Education was relieved by a recent letter from the Minister of Education, but unsure what would come next.
Education Minister Don McRae had requested the province’s school boards to look within their budgets for additional savings that could be used to increase wages for public school support workers.
“It was a concern to us because we don’t have any savings sitting around,” said Donna Sargent, chair of the Richmond school board. “We run a tight ship here and don’t just give savings away. Everything goes back to the classroom and students.”
BC School Trustees Association president Michael McEvoy expressed the trustees’ concerns at a meeting with McRae after which the minister sent a letter to the boards stating he would take their responses to the Minister of Finance and retract his initial request.
The letter was discussed at the board’s meeting last Monday.
“I’m glad he recognizes savings aren’t just sitting around in the budget,” said Sargent. “But now we’re unsure of what the next steps are going to be.”
The public school support staff has been in negotiations with the government since November after contracts expired in June. Their last bargaining meeting was at the end of January with no resolution.
The workers haven’t received a wage increase since 2005, according to June Kaiser, president of Richmond CUPE Local 716.
“The minister clearly had no comprehension of what the board has been going through or what the ramifications of that letter would be,” said Kaiser, who hadn’t expected to see a letter sent out to the boards. “Maybe it’s because he’s a new minister and wasn’t aware of the situation, I don’t know.”
Kaiser added she understood the board doesn’t have extra money in its budget and doesn’t expect it to provide the funding.
However, she believed that given recent provincial expenditures, there’s money available from the province.
Meanwhile, Sargent’s concerns lie in the precedent-setting possibility of McRae’s actions.
If one district were to settle, requesting funding from a school board’s budget could prove a viable option for the ministry.
“If we’re being asked to find savings so CUPE workers can get a wage increase, we could assume the same might happen for the teachers as well,” she said. “We wouldn’t want to set that precedent.”