An eight per cent cut to teaching staff which will affect 14 positions is an unnecessary move and will not solve the financial problems School District 52 is facing, the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union (PRDTU) stated, on May 13.
The PRDTU is calling on the Board of Trustees to maintain core instructional programs, cut wasteful spending and expensive overhead instead of eliminating teachers. Balancing the budget by reducing administrative costs, travel and expensive overheads is the better option, the union stated in a press release.
“Trust has been broken and this impacts all teachers, not only the eight per cent of our membership who will be laid off at the end of this school year,” Gabriel Bureau President of the PRDTU, said.
“It’s true that more were hired than what was budgeted for, but it turned out to be their saving grace. If it hadn’t been for that this [school] year would have been a very, very difficult situation because they hardly have enough people right now,” Bureau told The Northern View, with the school district planning to recruit more teachers until the recent spending and hiring freezes implemented in the spring.
The issues are complicated, he said, but the board should have realized back in Sept. That they were overspending on labour costs above the approved budget, but it wasn’t until January that it was first mentioned at a board meeting.
Bureau said that lay-off notices will be issued as early as May 13 and most of the teachers who will lose their jobs have just resettled their lives in Prince Rupert on the promise of job security. Many, if not all, have moved to the city from out of province and even some from out of the country. With the rental housing crisis, many purchased homes and were assisted with letters from the School District to assist with obtaining mortgages, he said.
“These cuts are deeply impacting the laid-off employees, who have started to build their lives in Prince Rupert and who have few options to remain in town without the job security promised to them when they were recruited to work for SD 52,” the union president said.
Out of just over 150 full-time equivalent teaching positions in SD 52, there are currently 25 itinerant teachers, 13 of which may receive notices as well as a small cohort teaching position at Prince Rupert Middle School that is being eliminated, making 14 teaching job losses. Other positions are being eliminated through attrition and by not filling vacancies.
“Make no mistake about it,” Bureau said. “These cuts will impact student learning. The School Board is taking resources away from students and undermining the morale of their staff and retention of teachers in the process. A reduction [of this size] in teachers is the wrong priority for Prince Rupert students.”
The PRDTU stated that teacher shortages won’t save the school district’s level of funding it claims is needed to balance its books. These shortages will have huge costs in terms of reducing student supports but will produce little in actual savings, the union stated. The union also questions the true magnitude of the fiscal shortfall, pointing to overly conservative enrolment estimates and other assumptions in the budget that don’t stand up under scrutiny, the representation body stated in its media release.
The teachers’ organization is also calling for a commitment from the school district to restore laid-off educational positions if the enrolment estimates and other budget assumptions prove incorrect.
Bureau said that some teachers wanted to speak up at the Board of Trustees meeting on May 11, when the decisions were made, however, they are bound by a ‘duty of fidelity’ to not publically speak against their employer as it can expose them to disciplinary action. Even though they may be in a lay-off position, if teachers are on the recall list commenting publically may affect their standing and still subject them to discipline.
“There’s time to fix this,” Bureau said. “Even if that means recalling the laid-off teachers in September. That won’t be ideal, but it’s better than going through an entire school year with teacher shortages due to an ill-advised budget for the year.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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