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Union objects to reductions in teaching positions in North Okanagan-Shuswap

South Broadview Elementary expected to see reduction of kindergarten teacher on Oct. 26
School District 83 will see another teacher reduction, this one expected at South Broadview Elementary come Monday, Oct. 26. (File photo)

With School District 83 instituting more teacher reductions and changes to classrooms, the president of the teachers’ union describes them as troubling choices while the district superintendent said he sees them as necessary.

Graham Gomme, president of the North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association (NOSTA), said he is disturbed superintendent Peter Jory is moving a kindergarten teacher out of South Broadview Elementary as of Oct. 26 when “there are no cuts anywhere else (in the district) but six teachers have been surplussed.”

Gomme is referring to earlier reductions of one teacher at Shuswap Middle School, two at Highland Park in Armstrong, one at MV Beattie in Enderby, one last week at Bastion Elementary and one coming up Monday at South Broadview Elementary.

“Kids will be disrupted, teachers will have to teach new classes…I’m extremely worried for my members. Morale is super low and frustration super high,” Gomme said.

Seven weeks into the school year, essentially every class at South Broadview is going to be interrupted in some way, he said.

Starting next week, teachers will be teaching different classes and subjects, students will be shuffled around, teachers and students who have built connections will be moving.

“They’re really stressed out with this.”

He said parents have been complaining, both about the teacher reduction at Bastion and the one at South Broadview.

Gomme said the district received about $3 million in grants – about $2 million federally and $1 million provincially – and he’d like to see other options considered before teachers and education assistants are cut.

Read more: North Okanagan-Shuswap school district faces $2 million deficit

Read more: COVID-19 makes its mark on Shuswap schools, teachers and parents

Read more: Volatile enrolment leads to loss of teach staff at three North Okanagan-Shuswap schools

Jory announced on Oct. 9 the school district is facing a deficit of more than $2 million that has led to staff reductions, with more expected. He said the deficit is due to three factors: reductions of funding due to a reduction of 98 students enrolling; less funding available due to students taking online schooling; and the loss of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) funding because many of the students who didn’t return had IEPs so the district is not getting that money.

He said School District 83’s financial situation is more complicated than most. Besides those three factors, the district keeps a relatively small contingency fund in the aftermath of the funding situation that led to the dissolution of the school board a few years ago.

Jory said although the district received grant money from the federal and provincial governments, some which was earmarked for specific purposes, “we are running through it quite quickly and need to be cautious about applying it in places that need to use it up faster. What we’re trying to do is make it last to the last day in June.”

He said the pandemic means additional cleaning costs, additional protective gear, adequate supervision and upgrades to buildings.

“We’ve also already used it for staffing – we dipped in to pay for online staffing right off the bat,” he noted.

Gomme, meanwhile, said he has spoken to the union presidents in the nine other districts in the Okanagan zone and no other district has done this, making cuts to the frontlines.

He said last spring School District 83 laid off all the teachers-on-call, and made cuts to CUPE staff, so he wonders why that funding isn’t available.

“It’s a very hard pill to swallow,” he said of the decision to move or ‘surplus’ teachers.

Jory remarked that he maintains a lot of faith in the teachers and the principals in the schools.

“What I’ve seen them do is be very professional, very thoughtful…I’m always troubled by the cynicism I see around the system. They’re doing a really great job…

“I’m not disputing that it’s been an incredibly challenging six months for everybody. Having to make this adjustment at this time of year is very hard for people. They happen to be coping with it very well and they have the capacity to do that.”

He said the reality of the pandemic isn’t a happy one but the district has been adapting and moving forward.

“I’m very proud,” he said.

Regarding staffing decisions, he said acting early has given the board of education more options in the long term.

“If we didn’t think it was necessary we wouldn’t be doing it.”
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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