Cost of wage increase infuriates trustees

NANAIMO – The school board met its Oct. 15 deadline for a cost savings plan, but made it clear it finds the government mandate upsetting.

The challenge of covering new costs for support staff workers is not only “annoying, it’s infuriating,” says the chairman of the Nanaimo school district.

The Nanaimo school board reluctantly passed a savings plan on Tuesday to cover wage increases for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, but not before trustees slammed the B.C. government requirement as Machiavellian and disingenuous.

The province struck a deal with CUPE for a 3.5-per cent wage increase over two years this September, but left it up to school districts to pay for the unexpected new cost. School boards had until Oct. 15 to submit a cost-savings plan to pay for the wage increase for support staff workers – an estimated $523,454 cost for Nanaimo this year and more than $969,000 in 2014.

While school trustees passed the plan and agreed the wage increase is necessary, they argued school districts shouldn’t be the ones to bankroll the expense. It is unfair and hurts core services for students.

Nanaimo’s school community made sacrifices this year to create surpluses to improve students’ education that money will now be redirected into CUPE salaries, they say.

“It is a little upsetting that the minister is so emboldened by [the Liberals’] electoral win that he’s becoming a bit pushy calling for a savings plan [that] is parallel to cooperative gains. It means cutting your budget,” said Jamie Brennan, school board chairman. “It’s not a savings plan.”

The school board will be using its surplus to cover the wage increases, which will come from initiatives like the South Wellington Elementary School closure and a reduction in an assistant superintendent position.

Donna Allen, the only trustee to vote against the cost savings plan, said as a former trustee, the Minister of Education should have understood the effect the unexpected expense would have on districts’ budgets.

The school board plans to write a letter to the province opposing the decision to have school districts pay for CUPE wage increases.