After two presentations by education assistant Julie Fowler bringing up her concerns around EA overtime pay and short work weeks, the school board appeared to have heard enough.
School District 69 (Qualicum) senior staff gave a presentation at the start of the school board’s Sept. 26 board meeting in response to Fowler’s concerns, which she lodged on June 27 and Aug. 29 during CUPE’s allotted time at the start of two successive board meetings.
The senior staff presentation was made directly after board chair Eve Flynn explained why CUPE should not be using its allotted time at the start of board meetings to raise such concerns.
Saying that such time is meant as an informal chance for partner groups to share their good works, Flynn said it is not meant to bring up employment matters, which she said should be confidential.
Bargaining, grievances and other avenues are more appropriate means to voice these kinds of concerns, she said, adding that “a tone of respect and civility” is expected during these pre-board-meeting presentations.
Superintendent Rollie Koop and assistant superintendent Gillian Wilson then went on to give their presentation.
“You heard a very clear perspective that one of your partner groups shared,” said Koop, adding that he hoped this presentation would “bring balance to the conversation.”
Much of the pair’s presentation focused on explaining how complicated supporting students with various needs is, emphasizing how those needs change constantly, and how SD69 has been ahead of the curve when it comes to providing those supports, they said.
They pointed out that, while the student population in the district has been dropping for a decade, there has been an increase in investment in EAs over the past several years.
However, apparently to address EA hours and changing schedules, Koop and Wilson said that budget concerns, and the need to provide for students above all else, means EAs have work only when a student needs them.
“We are not in a position to provide support when it’s not needed,” said Koop.
To address claims around EA work weeks, the pair presented a slide showing that the district has 23 EA positions at 20 hours a week, 10 positions at 22.5 hours a week, 24 positions at 25 hours a week, and 43 more at 27.5 hours per week.
The same slide showed that, at elementary schools, there are 24 hours and 25 minutes of educational time, and at the secondary level, 26 hours and 25 minutes.
Next they addressed pay, saying that, at $28.11 an hour, SD69 EA hourly pay ranks second in the province, with Port Alberni having a higher rate at $28.85.
SD69 EAs also receive a full benefit package (regardless of being part-time), which means it does not save the district money to have more EAs that work fewer hours, they said.
However, it does mean the needs of students can be better met, said Koop.
He also said, in response to Fowler’s claim that her superior had been disciplined after she made her first presentation, that that did not happen.
Nor do schools hold conversations in person, instead of through email, to avoid a paper trail, as Fowler suggested, said Koop. Having those conversations first is part of board policy, he said.
Wilson and Koop finished their presentation saying that trust has to be restored between EAs and the district.
CUPE later declined to use its allotted presentation time, saying only that a letter had been written and the board should receive it soon.