School trustees won't look for savings requested by province

Nanaimo school trustees will not look for savings in this year’s budget to put toward support staff compensation.

Last month, Education Minister Don McRae sent districts letters asking that boards find savings in their budgets equal to 1.5 per cent of support staff compensation both this year and next year to pay for wage increases for support staff.

The letter asked districts to develop savings plans by mid-January, with the stipulation that service levels must remain the same.

For Nanaimo, the district would need to find $412,000 out of this year’s budget and $824,000 out of next year’s budget to meet the request.

Support worker contracts expired last June and the province’s co-operative gains mandate requires employers to pay for any wage increases within the existing budget.

Just before Christmas break, school board chairman Jamie Brennan replied to the minister’s letter on behalf of the school board stating the district will not be able to comply with the request and that it would be impossible to do so without impact to services for students.

“We don’t have any excess money,” he said. “The secretary-treasurer gave us all a very cold shower at the last business committee meeting when he talked about the budgetary challenges we are going to face over the next three years.”

Trustees in other school districts have written similar letters to the minister, said Brennan.

Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer, predicts the district will face a $4.9-million budget shortfall next year, which goes up to $7 million for 2014-15 and $8.7 million for 2015-16.

Brennan said trustees are awaiting a response from the province as to what happens next, but he believes the province should provide new money for any wage increases.

“We’ve said ‘no’, but it doesn’t end there because we do still have to conclude bargaining with our support staff,” he said.

In an e-mailed response, McRae said the province has no new money for contracts and while he knows the savings is a “difficult task”, he hopes to work with districts to see if it’s possible.

Provincial officials will talk to the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the B.C. School Trustees Association about next steps, he added.

Michael McEvoy, BCSTA president, said in an e-mailed response that he is not aware of any school boards that have submitted a savings plan to the province.

He said he met with the minister, who apologized for the way the savings plan letter was conveyed to trustees and said he would not force savings on boards that did not submit a plan.

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