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Trustees in an uproar over gains mandate

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School District No. 46 board trustees are not pleased with a six-week deadline imposed by the Ministry of Education to try to find more money to help the provincial government with the next round of collective bargaining with school support staff.

A letter from the Ministry of Education outlining the cooperative gains mandate was discussed at the Dec. 11 school board meeting.

In the letter, Education Minister Don McRae said the cooperative gains mandate is “intended to protect the province’s fiscal plan while increasing employers’ flexibility in funding wage increases and assisting them in reaching voluntarily negotiated collective agreements. Ministries are required to work with their respective sectors to develop savings plans to free up funding from within existing budgets to provide for compensation increases.”

McRae said the savings plans can include savings resulting from operating cost reductions, increased efficiencies, service redesign, increases in revenue and other initiatives including from within collective agreements.

The Ministry is conducting a series of conference calls with superintendents and secretary treasurers this week to help answer questions about the process, but despite that, trustees were outraged by the tone of the letter, the timeline of six weeks to complete the report, which many felt was simply not reasonable given the Christmas holidays, and the implications of trying to find even more money at the district level in an already stretched-thin budget.

“I find this the most inflammatory piece of correspondence we have received from the Ministry,” said trustee Betty Baxter.

Trustee Greg Russell said the government is the one signing the contract and that they should be funding any increases.

“They [the government] control the purse strings. To turn to us is outrageous,” he said. “Where do you come up with this money now when the school year is already half over?”

Trustee Lori Pratt called the letter “disgusting” and that it was not fair to staff or students.

“The timing is atrocious with a two-week Christmas break,” she said.

Board chair Silas White said the gains mandate was nothing new and has been on the Ministry’s radar for the whole year, so he too questioned the Ministry’s timeline.

Trustees voted to write a strongly worded letter to the Ministry citing their concerns.

The Ministry is asking school districts to have their savings plan completed by mid-January in order to allow the government to continue collective bargaining. The Ministry of Finance will carry out final approval of the savings plans.

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