Jun 08, 2016

K-12 locals join parents and school districts in budget actions

BURNABY – CUPE locals across B.C. are supporting school trustees, parent advisory groups and other education unions who are standing up against the BC Liberal government’s chronic underfunding of education. The public outcry is getting results, as evidenced by a recent government announcement that they are giving back $25 million “administrative savings” they required school districts to cut.

“When CUPE members, their locals, and CUPE BC work together, we can be an unstoppable force for progressive solutions,” said CUPE BC President Paul Faoro. “The funding crisis in our schools today is the direct result of BC Liberal choices and priorities that favour the wealthy and well-connected and punish the rest of us. I’m very pleased to see our K-12 locals stepping up and pushing back on this right-wing regressive government that puts millionaires before students.

"We’re putting Christy Clark on notice—CUPE members in B.C. won’t stand idly by while you dismantle our world-class education system.”

CUPE 15 supports action by Vancouver School Board

Like many locals throughout B.C., CUPE 15 presented at stakeholder and budget meetings to explain the important work K-12 support staff do and talk about the effects of chronic underfunding in B.C. schools.  Members also attended public meetings and rallies in support of public education.  CUPE 15 President Warren Williams pledged rally goers that his local would do everything they could to offset the harm that the budget would do to children in Vancouver schools.

On April 28 the Vancouver School Board (VSB) made the courageous decision to reject a budget that would make deep cuts to classroom and support staff and reduce the quality of education in Vancouver schools.

Government supports private, not public, education

Funding for private schools in British Columbia has increased by more than 60 percent since 2005-06, while the public system remains woefully underfunded, and is being asked to bear the brunt of more cuts. According to the restoration budget produced by the VSB, $82 million is required to restore education services to pre 2002/2003 levels – years which saw significant budget cuts.

Yet at the same time the amount of public funding provided to the Province’s private schools—including elite prep schools—is expected to rise to $358 million in 2015-17 – an additional 15.1 percent.

School districts struggle to balance budgets

Due to significant and chronic underfunding of K-12 education in the province, school boards are under considerable financial restraint and have had to make some difficult decisions. Difficult for many communities is the decision of some districts to close schools or reduce the number of school days.

Since 2002, the BC Liberal government has closed 242 schools in B.C. More schools are threatened with closure, including three in Quesnel—and the only secondary school in Osoyoos.

School closures are devastating to families and communities. That’s why hundreds of parents have spoken out against the school closures in their communities.

School District 71 in the Comox Valley has proposed an alternate instructional week in order to gain $1.7 million in structural savings to balance their budget. This may be implemented by closing schools a half day each week, or by introducing a later start in the day for secondary students.

Due diligence helps restore cuts

CUPE 606, representing support workers in Nanaimo and Ladysmith, was successful in stopping almost two-thirds of projected budget cuts. CUPE 606 President Rob Zver said that by doing their due diligence with the budget they were able to save two-thirds of the positions the district planned to cut – going from cuts of 22 FTEs in September down to seven this month.  When support staff in schools lose their jobs, the quality of education suffers for all children.

Zver scrutinized the budget and presented trustees with cost savings by identifying discrepancies. He checked line by line on supplies and looked at anything that was going up an abnormal amount in light of cuts to staff and services. His suggestion to other locals: “Know your school district’s finances by taking the time to understand school district budgets. You have to dig deep to find the money.”

NNG and “administrative savings” equals budget shortfall in Saanich

When the budget advisory committee was reviewing the budget, they realized that this year School District 63 in Saanich should have been able to stabilize because they are out of funding protection, but instead were a million dollars short.

In Saanich the cost of PLNet, the existing internet system was $30,000. The BC Liberals mandated that all districts switch to the Next Generation Network (NGN) but have refused to fund it.  School boards had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to put in the infrastructure.  The annual cost to School District 63 for NGN is $314,000.  Saanich has one of largest distance learning schools in the province, that relies heavily on access to the internet. Some schools have switched over and bandwidth tests reveal that it’s not as fast – and at ten times the cost! 

If the annual mandated NGN cost is added to the $700,000 of “administrative savings,” the budget should have been able to be maintained at the same level as last year because the numbers were the same. CUPE Local 441 President Dean Coates says that it cannot be a coincidence that the two numbers add up to the shortfall. “This is an attempt by the provincial government to starve the public education system,” says Coates. He said that one positive result of this whole process is that people now understand that every job done by CUPE members affects kids.

CUPE locals in solidarity

In School District 20 (Kootenay-Columbia), CUPE 1285 has joined with the school board, the Kootenay-Columbia Teachers’ Union and the District Parent Advisory Committee (DPAC) on a ten-week public awareness advertising campaign. The campaign urges people to call the Premier, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Education and request that the $100 million “prosperity fund” be reallocated to public schools across the province. As part of the campaign, a petition is being circulated that calls for increased funding for education. It has been receiving much public support. The board decided to produce a needs (deficit) budget and share that with government. 

Looking towards the provincial election

By fostering relationships, public education can be protected for children throughout B.C.  Across the board, when parents, support staff, other education unions and school districts work together, it’s possible to force the government to make changes.  And if not, we’ll work together to change the government.  

Visit the CUPE BC gallery to view photos.

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