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September 1, 2009

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Mass layoff notices mark beginning of school year

PENTICTON—Last minute cuts announced by the Ministry of Education have led the Okanagan Skaha School District (67) to take the unprecedented step of issuing layoff notices to almost 50 staff.

The services provided by members of CUPE local 523 who include maintenance, grounds, custodial and bussing staff will be affected by layoffs resulting from a $1.3 million cut to the district’s Annual Facilities Grant (AFG).

CUPE 523 president Zoe Magnus says that although the union was working with the employer to ensure that layoffs would take place in an orderly fashion, and would not disproportionately affect CUPE members, the district has gone ahead with mass layoff notices.

“Issuing layoff notice to one out of every six regular staff in the district has thrown the beginning of school period into chaos. Instead of ensuring that we are ready for a challenging year – with the threat of H1N1 and dealing with already reduced resources – we are scrambling to figure out who will be left to do the work,” says Magnus.

Magnus says that while responsibility for the funding cut lies squarely with the provincial government, the school district may be jumping the gun and needs to look at its own priorities in this crisis situation.

“We are concerned that recently retired superintendent Gary Doi has been given a contract worth $52,500 to organize a three-day summer conference in 2010. Prior to this school year, Mr. Doi organized this conference in his capacity of Superintendent of SD67.

“Frankly–we think that given the choice, parents and students place a priority on maintaining safe, clean schools, not on consulting fees,” says Magnus.

CUPE is seeking to enforce Labour Code provisions which require employers to provide notice and develop transition plans in the event of layoffs.

CUPE 523 represents more than 300 regular school support workers in School District 67 and 800 additional workers in school districts and community social services agencies in the Thompson Okanagan region.

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