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Cuts proposed to balance Nanaimo school district budget

With $5.4-million budget deficit forecast, Nanaimo school district staff is suggesting axing 44 full-time equivalent positions in its initial 2014-15 budget proposal.

Reduction of teacher librarian, custodial, bus driver and carpentry positions are among the strategies under discussion and both Rob Zver, CUPE Local 606 president, and Mike Ball, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, wonder why district administration isn’t part of the cuts.

“Administration is not taking a part in the decreasing end of it so it’s not equitable,” said Zver. “They want to take away cleanliness of schools, take away clerical time that has value to it and believe they can do with less of that but in their own upper echelon, that they’re not touchable and that’s deploring – it’s just wrong.”

Ball echoed Zver’s sentiments, saying management has gone up 35 per cent since 2001, while student enrolment has  decreased close to 10 per cent and the number of teachers has gone down approximately 20 per cent.

He said teacher cuts would be detrimental to learning in one way or another, including those to teacher librarians.

“Teacher librarians as cuts really make no sense, I mean they’re the heart of the school,” said Ball. “These are the people that work collaboratively with all other teachers trying to make sure that the educational needs of the students are met.”

Ball said not having a teacher librarian will put a lot of pressure on classroom teachers.

Jamie Brennan, school district trustee and chairman of the business committee, said he didn’t think there was an appetite to go forward with all the proposed cuts. He also said the board is a long way from finalizing the budget, which is expected to take place April 30.

There will be a public meeting tonight at Nanaimo District Secondary School as well as meetings at the district board room on Wednesday (April 16), April 22 and 28.

As for the lack of administration cuts, he said he wouldn’t comment on it directly but said he agreed with the observation.

“When you look at the NDTA column and you look at the CUPE column, there are significant numbers of people’s jobs that may be affected and when you look at the administration column it’s empty ... I’m sure the bargaining representatives at the table will press for some sharing of the pain amongst the administrators,” Brennan said.

He said the public meeting will give an indication of what people think of the proposal. People could come forward with suggestions and trustees could make motions that support the suggestions.

“Everything’s on the table. Everything’s up for consideration in terms of cuts,” Brennan said. “Just because we’ve received that document with those numbers of cuts from staff, that’s very much the staff document. It remains to be seen what the business committee and ultimately the board will approve as a final budget.”

The impact of the deficit could be softened by a surplus of $1.5 million and $1 million from last year’s budget, which would lessen the shortfall to about $3 million. The initial proposal includes reduction strategies totalling $6.8 million – $1.4 million more than required.

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