Job cuts are coming for school district staff starting next school year to pay for a recently negotiated contract with nonteaching staff.
That was the message trustees announced at Monday night's Richmond School Board meeting - one Ross McLuskie, vice president of CUPE Local 716 wasn't happy to hear.
"We haven't had a raise in four years. We finally get one. And when we do sign, we're threatened with layoffs," McLuskie told trustees, adding his members are angry at the prospect of losing jobs to pay for a 3.5 per cent wage increase negotiated last month with the provincial government.
School districts across the province are being told to find money for the wage hike - estimated to cost Richmond $703,992 in the first year of a two-year agreement - through savings under the province's Cooperative Gains mandate.
Tapping into Richmond's $6.1 million operating surplus will cover the first year's increase. But job cuts are in line to meet the $1.34 million needed in year two, said Wendy Grondzil, the district's assistant secretary treasurer.
Grondzil also outlined numerous other ways to help fund the raise, but told trustees they either did not provide enough savings, or represented returns that could not be relied upon on a consistent basis.
They included tapping the district's international student program, finding increased energy savings, sharing purchasing services with other districts and looking into staff absence management and overtime reduction.
Trustee Debbie Tablotney said she is tired of cutting services to schools, but conceded the district has few options left.
School board chair Donna Sargent said she finds the government's actions of downloading the contract costs on local school districts insulting, "that the minister thinks the board and staff are sitting on a savings plan."
"We've worked so hard to be transparent, accountable and have made the cuts that are necessary."
Sargent added the board has a meeting scheduled with B.C.'s Education Minister, Peter Fassbender, on Oct. 25 when they plan to make their views known.
CUPE's McLuskie said he wasn't completely satisfied that trustees have dug deep enough to find savings within the district.
"Was it easier for them to lay off people," he asked, adding his 1,000 or so members are already "stretched to the limit."
"We have educational assistants, who are about half of our membership, who have two or three other jobs just to survive," he said. "And we have the best trade department you can get, and there's a fear of contracting out. So, we're quite concerned."
As for how that may affect ratification of the contract, there has been some talk among other CUPE locals to not sign the deal and continue lobbying the government to find money for the increase.
But locally, McLuskie was confident his members will okay the deal, although there remains a lingering question whether trustees have done enough to protest the government's actions.
"There's maybe been a fear of being 'Cowichanized,'" McLuskie said, referring to the board of trustees in Lake Cowichan that was replaced after refusing to cede to the government's directive to fund a previous raise for teaching staff.
"I think that still sits in the back of the heads of trustees throughout the province," he said.
© Copyright 2013