Wednesday April 23, 2014

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Still work to be done

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Thatís the collective sound of parents across the province now that a tentative deal has been reached between the provincial government and education support staff.

Support staff, some 33,000 across the province, are vital to keeping schools clean, safe and inclusive. If a deal was not reached, there were fears that a full scale strike by CUPE members would take place, which would effectively shut down schools as teachers, represented by the B.C. Teachersí Federation, would not, in solidarity, cross any picket lines.

A strike at any time is very stressful, not only on the workers themselves, but on parents, educators and the students. Parents who work during the day would be left scrambling to find child care, and in a community such as ours, where child care options are often difficult to secure, it makes the situation even more challenging.

But just because a tentative deal is now in place doesnít mean we are out of the woods just yet.

The deal, achieved late Wednesday night after marathon sessions of bargaining between the province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), provides for modest wage increases of 3.5 per cent over two years, funded from savings found within existing school district budgets. So this means that each CUPE local must take this deal back to their respective school boards to conclude collective bargaining.

Will our School District No. 46 be able to find the 3.5 per cent wage increase? The early indication is yes. Last week we reported that SD46 was left with a $979,657 unrestricted operating surplus from the 2012/13 school year.

SD46 regularly budgets to have some surplus funds in the bank for emergency expenditures; however, conservative budget estimates, some unspent salary and supply budgets and a bit of unexpected revenue pushed the 2012/13 surplus higher than expected. This year, schools will get to share $653,000, which is about two-thirds of $979,657. So clearly our school district has budgeted properly, but what about other school districts?

What if some districts have the funds in their budgets and others do not? Does that mean the whole deal falls apart? Does that mean some districts will be in a possible strike position and others will not? There are still far too many unanswered questions and clearly a lot of work yet to be done.

And where does the province sit in all of this? Sure, they can send out a news release praising the fact that they have been able to strike a tentative deal, but they have left school districts to iron out the final details and, in effect, have left them holding the money bag.

So breathe easy for now. School will remain in session, but there are still too many what ifs for us to feel comfortable.

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