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June 16, 2009

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Member and public action help slow education cuts

NEW WESTMINSTER – Students, parents and staff in the New Westminster School District can breathe a little easier with some of the most serious proposed restructuring of support services averted. CUPE members were part of a packed meeting of the Board of Education on June 9, and the union followed this with days of discussions with district management.

CUPE 409 president Marcel Marsolais says that the board and school district administration were clearly prepared to take a step back from staff cuts and reductions with negative impacts on school safety and cleanliness, and stability for students needing special support.

“Agreement has also been reached to drop plans to dramatically restructure many clerical job duties and revert to existing classifications. Although we have agreement, the union is concerned as to how the schools will function with increased workload at small schools in particular,” says Marsolais.

Unfortunately, the district is still faced with a substantial deficit and continues to consider some cuts, including combining classifications for clerical staff. Marsolais says that the union has advised against this, flagging safety concerns and the minimal savings that would be achieved.

CUPE is also concerned that the board is still planning 30 per cent cuts to the child and youth care outreach workers, who provide services to students with severe behaviour disabilities, aboriginal students and others. “Especially at a time when more students need these supports, and in fact we know we are already understaffed in these areas, with Special Education Assistants actually working a number of unpaid hours, this will create chaos for teachers and students,” says Marsolais.

At its June 9 meeting, the board heard from a number of CUPE members about the impact that proposed cuts would have on their lives, their jobs and the district. Charlene Ducholke, a secretary at Queensborough Middle School and the Recording Secretary for CUPE Local 409, said that the proposed layoffs, which would affect both her and her husband felt very personal.

“It is extremely difficult not to take a layoff like this personally, as lives are turned upside down with so much anxiety and emotion as the personal livelihoods of friends and colleagues are in turmoil. As an example, in my home, both my husband and I are at risk of losing our positions in this district – that is impossible not to take personally,” said Ducholke.

School custodian Ralph Loxtercamp made a strong presentation in defense of daytime custodians. He outlined the many ways in which they keep schools and students safe, and offer value for money to the school district.

Marsolais says that, thanks to the passionate participation of CUPE members and parents, good sense has prevailed for the most part.

Custodian day shifts have been largely restored, a move that will allow staff to continue to provide services that keep schools safe and clean. However, the district will cut two full-time custodial positions, meaning 16 fewer hours of cleaning. Proposed layoffs of a trades plumber and a gardener position will not go ahead.

Marsolais puts most of the responsibility for the cuts at the feet of the provincial government. “The province has underfunded public education for eight years. We have seen many unexplained delays in the construction of a new high school since 2005, and have had to deal with the additional costs associated with these delays. Our message to Gordon Campbell and his new Education Minister is that one of the best public education systems in the world is on the verge of collapse.”

Marsolais says the union has presented the board with several options including cost savings through contracting-in some services, as well as revenue-generating proposals. CUPE 409 is encouraging members and the public to contact the Minister of Education and MLAs to address inadequate funding. The next New Westminster Board of Education meeting is June 23, 2009 at 7:30 pm.

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