School budget cuts finalized in Nanaimo

Nanaimo trustees have cut $1.4 million in jobs and services to balance next year's budget.

Nanaimo trustees have cut $1.4 million in jobs and services to balance next year’s budget.

The $124.5-million budget was passed at a special meeting Tuesday.

“I’m very disappointed we didn’t go with the two-week spring break,” said school board chairwoman Sharon Welch, who asked board members to reconsider the cut. “I thought it was a lot less hard on students than what we ended up passing.”

Staff had originally proposed extending spring break from one week to two again – the district had a two-week spring break this year – which would save an estimated $500,000 in support staff wages and utility costs.

Carol McNamee, school board vice-chairwoman, wasn’t happy making any cuts at all and voted against the budget.

“The district has gone through years and years and years of cutting and at one point, you just have to say, ‘OK, we’re done,'” she said. “In all conscience, I can’t vote for a budget that decimates the district as this one does. It sort of feels like do you cut off your left arm or your right arm? You’re still disabling the system.”

Besides voting against the extended spring break proposal, trustees decided not to cut the child, youth and family support worker service in elementary schools, kept the early years coordinator position at full-time rather than reduce it, and chose not to support a new literacy project at the expense of community school coordinators and support worker positions.

“We just really tried to protect the positions that were going to directly affect students the most,” said Welch.

Robin Smith, an elementary school child, youth and family support worker, said she and her colleagues are relieved trustees decided not to cut those positions.

“We feel like they heard what we had to say, what the students had to say and what our co-workers had to say,” she said.

Cuts include: reductions to school principals/vice-principals, education assistants, school librarians, school clerical positions and custodians; reductions to supplies, equipment, repair and maintenance budgets; not filling the labour relations manager position; and not replacing certain staff on their first day of absence – a cut that was unpopular this year.

The board also decided to ask the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association review the district’s Human Resources department, said Welch, after senior management brought forward concerns about the board’s decision not to fill the labour relations manager position.

“For such a huge organization, we have a very small HR department,” she said.

Rob Zver, president of CUPE local 606, which represents the district’s support workers, said his members took a huge hit in the budget.

“I think the board could have taken the giant leap like Saanich and submitted a deficit budget or not included a contingency,” he said.