Union concerned about cuts in Qualicum School District

CUPE members showed up in numbers at the recent school board meeting

School district union members expressed concern with a reduction in educational assistant (EA) hours at Tuesday’s regular school board meeting.

Members of CUPE Local 3570

expressed their concern with the reduction in the recently passed 2015/16 school district budget.

In all, the district will reduce EA support by 76 hours, said assistant superintendent Gillian Wilson.

“This was such a blow,” said CUPE president Lisa Paine. “It’s a significant amount across the whole system.”

Educational assistants work directly with students who have a recognized need for educational support.

The decision to reduce the number of EA hours was based on projected student need and the estimated decline in student population over the next year, said Wilson.

At present the district has sent 19 layoff notices to EA staff.

Eleven EA positions, all of which are part-time, will be refilled for the upcoming year, resulting in the aforementioned 76 hour difference.

There are, however, an additional number of EA hours being held back until the start of the school year, which will be filled if teachers find that there are more students in need of support than expected, said Wilson. At this time there will also be an additional $163,882 in learning improvement funds coming to the district to support EA staffing.

Wilson also said that the 2015/16 budget brings a staffing increase in the professional support area, such as counselling and learning support. These individuals, who cost more per hour than an EA, work directly with students, as well as help teachers to implement the best methods to support their own students.

Still, Karen Tomlinson, who has worked as an EA for over 25 years and who was one of the nearly two dozen CUPE supporters at Tuesday’s meeting, feels that EA support in the district has already been stretched too thin. “In the end, it is the students who suffer,” she said.

Paine admitted that she struggled to understand the math on which the upcoming cuts were based and so will take Wilson up on her offer to go over the numbers.

Paine said she is also asking for the board to make a full and fair review of the decisions and hopes to see a more collaborative process in the future.

Trustee Elaine Young said she is “absolutely committed” to having students receive the support they need and encouraged everyone to bring their concerns on the issue directly to trustees.

Other board news:

• Superintendent Rollie Koop announced that the school board will soon seek the public’s views on last year’s school reconfigurations. In particular, the district will open up an online platform, hosted by Thoughtexchange, to the general public starting this week.

Koop said the interactive forum allows people to answer questions and make, review and rate comments. A link to the platform will be made available to guardians through their children’s schools and to the public through e-mail and the paper.

Koop said the district hopes having an on-line platform will make participating in the exchange more convenient and accessible for more people.

• The board also voted to return the Crown land on which the former Errington Elementary School was built, which they agreed to do once the new school was completed.

The former school was built on six individual parcels of land, three of which remain. All three of these lots belong to the school district and chair Eve Flynn said the board will consult the public in the near future to find out what should happen with the proceeds from the sale of these properties.

The board has also applied for a piece of Crown land close to the new Errington Elementary School, which Flynn said would be used to improve the school’s parking and drop-off areas.

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