Powell River Board of Education trustees have informed the province that after careful examination of School District 47 finances they can not find any savings to pay for wage increases under the conditions of the capital gains mandate.
Minister of Education Don McRae recently sent a letter to all 60 board chairs throughout the province informing them they needed to find money to pay for support staff wage increases by mid-January.
In his letter, 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 existing budgets to provide for compensation increases.”
In a strongly worded letter, Jeanette Scott, board chair, informed the minister that School District 47 had “lived the savings plan part of the mandate for years. With declining enrolment each year, we have had to develop an annual savings plan just to maintain service levels.”
The district receives provincial funding protection to stabilize funding due to shrinking enrolment. Scott questioned how it would be possible to find savings in the budget when they are barely covering basic services.
“Over the past 10 years, we have performed efficiency reviews, redesigned our service delivery model, developed savings through operational cost reductions and have worked to increase and develop additional sources of revenue,” she said. “We support fair wage increases for both support staff and teachers. However, we urge government to fund its mandate through savings found in other areas of government without reducing services to taxpayers.”
Suggestions included reducing or eliminating funding for private schools, eliminating British Columbia Public Sector Educators’ Association, the bargaining agent for BC boards of education, and reducing ministry of education personnel.
Steve Hopkins, secretary-treasurer for the district, said a 1.5 per cent increase in support staff wages would cost roughly $60,000 in the first year and then $120,000 in the second year.
District teachers and support staff share the board’s frustration. Cathy Fisher, president of Powell River and District Teachers’ Association, said, “If you don’t have enough money to start with and then you’re saddled with the costs of what the government should be rightly funding, how on earth are you supposed to make your books balance?”
Daphne Ross is president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 476 which represents support staff in the school district. She said this mandate forces public employees to strike for small increases that don’t even cover cost-of-living increases. “This cooperative gains mandate is not fair,” she said. “It’s not cooperative, and there aren’t any gains.”