The Richmond school district is slated to announce how it will pay for a 3.5 per cent wage increase for non-teaching staff Monday (Oct. 7), although school officials are still unsure how much the increase will cost in terms of dollars and possible job cuts.
School board chair Donna Sargent told the News district staff are still crunching numbers on the contract agreement worked out last month between members of CUPE — which represents about 1,000 workers locally, ranging from education assistants to janitorial staff — and the ministry of education. The calculations are being done because the province is downloading the increase on districts, rather than providing funding.
The government’s directive is for school districts to meet the contract increase through savings found locally — and that could mean pink slips for some staff.
It’s a scenario that will not take affect this school year, Sargent assured. But there could be job losses for the start of the 2014 school year.
Hoping against that is June Kaiser, president of CUPE Local 716, who said she has been in discussion with the district to make suggestions where savings can be made, such as shared services.
“Are we sharing enough services with other districts, like bulk purchasing to save money?” Kaiser said.
She also questioned what happens with funds saved through the provincial carbon tax.
“We have access to the books. We see where the money is (or where it’s not). But there’s still a lot of stuff, even on a local level that they should be looking at,” Kaiser said. “I think (school district staff) are doing the best they can ... to find money.
“We’ve given them our ideas, and we’ll see what they do with it.”
Aside from poring over the district’s budget items, Kaiser said she feels the province is abandoning its responsibility to properly fund education.
“For (the B.C.’s Ministry of Education) to still expect the districts to pay is ludicrous,” she said. “And I don’t think the districts are fighting hard enough. I’m sure there’s fear and some political stuff happening.
“The government has to understand that it’s their negotiated settlement. We negotiated with the government because that’s where the money is. Had we not been told that, we’d still be negotiating.”
Also upset with the downloading on districts is Richmond school trustee Eric Yung.
“It’s a process that has been fairly prevalent over the past few years,” Yung said. “It can keep happening as long as the erosion of morale, services and degradation of our capacity to provide a quality public education is acceptable.”
Most school districts across B.C. spend close to the full amount of their budgets annually, leaving very little left over to deal with expenses from a contract increase they did not negotiate directly, Yung added.
Richmond does have a $6.1 million surplus that Sargent said a portion of which may be used. But it represents a small percentage of the local district’s $200 million-plus budget.
While the surplus may seem like a lot of money, it can disappear very quickly given other contract talks on the horizon, Yung said.
“This isn’t an isolated incident. We’re probably going to have to start thinking about 2014 and onward for CUPE,” he said. “And we still don’t know what’s going to happen with the teachers.”
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