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School calendar changes mulled

Two people made presentations to Nanaimo school trustees at a special meeting Tuesday evening to collect feedback on the district's proposal to extend spring break from one week to two weeks next year.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said Ron Farino, president of CUPE Local 606, and Karen Lawrence, an education assistant, were the only presenters.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said both outlined concerns about the financial hardships an extended break will have on support staff, as they are paid hourly wages and would lose pay for the extra days off, which is also of concern to trustees.

"These are the people working the least amount of hours, their annual incomes are not large," Brennan said. "We also have a lot of parents who are really concerned about the ability to find care for those extra four days and the cost. Trustees are keeping their minds open."

Brennan said there are other opportunities to weigh in on the issue, such as the online survey.

"There was a huge amount of input through the questionnaire last year," he said.

If approved, the change to the school calendar, proposed by staff to save money, would combine the Easter long weekend and spring break, closing schools for an additional four days, as Good Friday is already a statutory holiday. Students and staff would be off for two weeks plus a day, as Easter Monday is also a holiday.

Staff estimate the move would save about $366,000, mostly in support staff wages, utilities and replacement costs, and the extra time would be made up by adding about 30 minutes to each school week.

This isn't the first time an extended spring break has been suggested to help balance the books.

Last year, trustees voted against changing this school year's spring break to two weeks following a public consultation process and two years ago, the school board voted in favour of the change, which gave students and staff an extended holiday last year.

Almost 1,700 people responded to the district's school calendar survey last year, with 59.7 per cent in favour of a two-week spring break, 36.7 per cent opposed and 3.8 per cent neutral.

Today is the last day to participate in this year's online survey at www.sd68.bc.ca.

Reimer said Wednesday that responses this year have already surpassed last year's numbers, but details will not be released until after the results are compiled and given to trustees.

The board will make a decision on the issue at a special meeting next Wednesday, April 18.

Brennan said the complicating factor this year is that the agreement of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association is necessary before the calendar can be modified.

"We can make a decision, but then it's dependent on the decision of the teachers," he said.

Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer, said in previous years, the district believed a section in the School Act superseded collective agreement provisions requiring the district to seek the union's approval for modifications to the local school calendar. This section of the School Act was repealed when Bill 22 was passed last month.

Derek DeGear, NDTA president, said it was news to him that the district would need the union's approval to make the change, but that the union would be willing to discuss with staff adjustments needed to bring the collective agreement in line with the alternate calendar, such as adjusting teacher-on-call pay rates to reflect a longer working day.

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