Support workers’ pay hike will force cuts to Central Okanagan School District budget

The chairwoman of the Central Okanagan Board of Education says district will have to find the money in its own budget.

A tentative labour deal struck between the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association  and the union representing public school support workers across B.C. will mean cuts for the Central Okanagan School District says the district’s board of education chairwoman.

Moyra Baxter said Thursday the “framework” agreement negotiated between the BCPSEA and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 33,000 school support workers in B.C., will cost the Central Okanagan School District $700,000 in the first year and $1.2 million in the second year of the two-year deal.

The tentative agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both sides, calls for a 3.5 per cent wage, with one per cent retroactive to July 1, two per cent more on Feb. 1, 2014 and a further 0.5 per cent more on May 1, 2014.

In addition a to ratification, local issues also need to be negotiated by the union and the local school district.

With no money to cover the deal coming from Victoria, Baxter said her district must find it in its existing balanced budget.

The deal was negotiated under the province’s 2012 co-operative gains mandate, which requires any wage increases to be covered by savings found within existing school district budgets and not from additional money provided by the government.

“In the short term, we have enough in surplus to cover (the first year of the deal) but to deplete all our surplus is not a good idea,” said Baxter.

She added cuts will have to be made to fund the agreement.

And despite the province decree that cuts are not to be made to “core” services for students Baxter said there is likely no way around that here.

She said she and her board made that point directly to Education Minister Peter Fassbender last week when he was here in Kelowna. She said the minister was told that there is no way to avoid cuts that will impact students given the province’s refusal to fund the negotiated wage increase.

The province has suggested one way for school districts to find the money is to charge more for student bus transportation.  But Baxter said she is concerned about downloading the cost of the support workers’ settlement onto local families.

Praising local support workers, who have been without a contract for more than a year, Baxter said she is not upset with them as they deserved a new contract. She added she was also happy the possibility of a strike has been averted.

“That part is good news,” she said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who was asked last week about the potential impact on the local school district’s budget of a negotiated pay hike for support workers, appeared to shrug it off.

He said the school district has realize the province is in tough economic times.

“We need to work together,” said Fassbender, a former mayor of Langley.


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