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Union protests ongoing school cuts

From bus drivers to certified education assistants, support staff in the Vernon School District are essential to students’ education.

But the president of CUPE is concerned that continuing budget cuts will affect the health and safety of support staff.

“Due to successive funding cuts to school districts for more than a decade, the effects are starting to mount in regards to the health and safety of the people employed to ensure our children are educated in a safe and healthy environment,” said Mark Olsen, president of Local 5523, which represents district support staff.

Olsen has submitted a letter to the district for budget deliberation of the 2014/15 school year.

He said the district’s approach to minimize the disruption to the classroom is admirable, but by asking teachers and support staff to do more with less, the union is seeing a spike in mental and physical illness and injuries.

He said cuts to custodial staffing and reduced cleaning standards leave children and employees at risk of disease from reduced hygienic conditions.

“People want to do a good job and we believe the absenteeism trends support the position that preventative maintenance is not being performed to a satisfactory level, and in an attempt to deliver and maintain the services previously provided, employees are absent from work due to physical and mental health disorders brought on by extensive stress,” said Olsen.

He said absenteeism costs the district in additional ways such as increased Workers Compensation rates from increased work-related injuries. As WCB now recognizes mental health issues brought on by work-related stress and other factors, CUPE has seen an increase in its WCB assessment rates.

“It is a direct cost to the district if workers are off on sick leave or short-term disability.

“We are also seeing our employees leaving to seek other employment and we believe some of the rationale is from stress levels in the workplace. Replacement of these workers is another cost borne by the district.”

Olsen said the cuts are having a detrimental effect on CUPE employees and the service they provide.

He offered a number of suggestions to trustees as they attempt to balance next year’s budget, such as the possibility of cutting administrators back from two to one at each school.

He points to J.W. Inglis and Cherryville, which share one principal, but have a vice-principal at each school. Lavington and Kidston each have only a principal.

“In those examples, there is no indication of detrimental effects to the students nor has it affected their learning outcomes.

“We have three director of instruction positions — can we do the work they perform with two?”

Olsen suggested the possibility of increasing the rental fees of facilities or charging for busing.

“Public education is being financially starved by the provincial government,” he said. “It needs to be made aware of the effects the reduced funding is having on our children and our employees.

“Mental and physical health issues will continue to rise unless we become proactive in helping our employees.”

The district is looking at a proposed $1.2 million in extra costs to the 2014/15 budget, and is looking at ways to make cuts that will have the least impact on students.

Ministry of Education funding amounts to $6,900 per student, but declining enrolment has meant less funding to the district every year. This year, 713 Grade 12 students will leave the district, compared to just 591 starting kindergarten.

Required by law to come in at budget, the district has had $20 million in cuts since 1999.

 

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