‘School cuts going too deep’

Unionized employees ask board to defy Liberal government

School district employees told trustees that the latest round of budget cuts go too deep, urging them to defy the provincial government and resist solutions to erase a funding shortfall.

Angry teachers, school secretaries and other CUPE members spent about two and a half hours detailing the ways that budget cuts are going to hurt the school system Wednesday at Maple Ridge secondary.

The district offered the opportunity for public input on the $129 million proposed budget for 2014-2015, before it is considered for final adoption at the end of the month.

The board faces a shortfall of $5 million, and its cuts include 23 full-time equivalent CUPE positions, and about 20 FTE positions in the B.C. teachers’ union.

Many of the 28 presenters spoke about how cuts to school secretary positions will compromise school safety.

Heather Upton-Brown said secretaries deal with children whose parents fail to pick them up after school, guardians who show up at school intoxicated, and other “shocking stories.”

She noted that in the proposed budget, “not one excluded management position was cut.”

“Those are very important jobs, but not more important than the person who receives the call from the RCMP, to put a school into lockdown.

“Cuts should be across the board, not to just one employee group,” she added.

Wendy Hyslop, the administrative coordinator at Garibaldi secondary, said receptionists are key to a school’s safety. They monitor strangers who would otherwise be “free to wander the school.”

They are aware of child custody issues and non-contact orders.

“They are the very eyes and ears of the school,” she said.

Hyslop added that they are also one of the lowest-paid positions in a school.

She warned trustees they are “inviting a serious consequence.”

Lori Champagne, an accountant at Pitt Meadows elementary, told trustees that CUPE office staff are the ones taking calls from parents, with messages for children, such as “wait at the school until I arrive.”

She said under the present budget, emergency calls to a school will face a greater likelihood of going to voice mail.

“You are chipping away at the front lines of our schools,” said Champagne.

Gladys Hewson, secretary at Blue Mountain elementary, referred to CUPE’s bumping policy and compared it with upcoming municipal elections.

“As I look at my fellow CUPE members, I know I will someday take one of their jobs. Or trustees, in September, maybe I will take one of yours,” said Hewson.

The CUPE members got big cheers and ovations from the large audience in the school cafeteria.

Leslie Franklin, local CUPE president and a member of the provincial bargaining committee, told trustees that the 23 FTEs actually represents the jobs of 33 people across the district, because most are not full-time.

“You’re making huge cuts,” she said. “We’re the least valued, least respected and the lowest paid.”

She noted that trustees make no effort to understand the practical jobs of the people they are cutting, and called it “shameful.”

Ken Bisset, an education assistant at Maple Ridge elementary, said teachers “can’t properly do their jobs anymore,” because of the continual reduction of supports, and the “needless” turnover of staff.

“What we do is not valued by this government.”

He urged the board to refuse to make the cuts being forced on them by Victoria.

“Trustees, we trust you, our children trust you, and our parents trust you, to protect education in this district.”

Andrew Stevenson, a teacher, delivered the same message: “Tell them, ‘Forget it.’ There’s nothing more to cut.”

Todd Patrick, vice-president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, also wanted trustees to take a stand against “underfunding of our children’s future.”

He added: “What important change hasn’t come by breaking the rules.”

He also took a shot at Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton, who made comments last week that poverty is not an issue in his riding.

“This is the disconnect we are dealing with,” said Patrick.

Neither Dalton nor Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing appeared at the meeting, although both were invited.

Larissa Predy noted that, since 2008, the population of special needs students is up 16 per cent, “and yet our staffing to service this group has gone down.”

Glenwood elementary teacher Jocelyn McIntosh also spoke about stress on teachers.

“I already feel a little bit stretched,” she said. “I’m missing out on the relationships, and that’s what this job is about.”

Marnie McGrath spoke on behalf of five career planning assistants in high schools, whose positions are being eliminated. The Thomas Haney secondary CPA explained that these workers keep the career centres open, work with students to explore post-secondary possibilities, scholarships available and give information on entrance requirements to institutions.

She pointed out that CPAs have organized students to volunteer for almost 5,000 hours at Ridge Meadows Hospital over the past two years, and each year 32 students sign up for the SPURS program, to work with the RCMP.

Westview teacher Maynard Embree called them “frontline workers” and “the glue” that hold career education programs together.

“The board must not be under any false assumption that teachers or others will pick up the slack,” said Embree. “This is not cost savings for the school district, it is a lose-lose proposition.”

“We take your feedback very seriously,” board vice-chair Eleanor Palis told the assembly.

Board chair Mike Murray was absent, but joined the meeting by electronic link.