School District 20 support staff ratifies labour deal

New CUPE president counts deal as a success but fears further cuts

School District 20’s support staff have a new union president to fight their battle, following a recent election.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1285 has voted in Roger Smith as its new president. Smith has been an executive member for just over four years and has acted as a local custodian for 24 years.

“I hope that I can fill the shoes that Cherryl (MacLeod) provided as president because I think she did an excellent job,” he said.

His first order of business was seeing that his 230 members voted to ratify the deal that resulted in a 3.5 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract. A vote held Thursday in Trail and Castlegar resulted in 93 per cent in favour, which came as both a surprise and relief to Smith.

The new deal between the BC Public School Employers’ Association and CUPE BC was reached mid-September after long negotiations. Though some strides were reached at the bargaining table, Smith is disappointed that school districts have to reach into its coffers to cough up the cash.

“I’m not happy that the government has decided not to fund any raises or increase in benefits themselves, that they’ve downloaded all the costs onto the districts,” said Smith. “Because the districts are already under a financial strain due to underfunding by the government.”

This demand from within will likely lead to further cuts, he said, that could again fall on CUPE members, which includes school bus drivers, custodians, clericals, maintenance, tech and trades, education assistants, childcare and youth workers, and aboriginal education employees.

While in office, Smith hopes to regain the trust of members, reign in spending and get members involved.

“We haven’t had a raise for four years and it (was) due but at the same time we’re the ones that are going to bear the brunt of it and I don’t believe that that’s a fair system and an unfair system has once again been set up by the Liberal government,” he said.

Over 20 years ago when he started, he said expectations were high and people took pride in their work. Over time, Smith has watched work quality and employee morale diminish as budgets were slashed.

He can speak directly to the custodial department, which he said has been cut down to 11 months and now follows a new level of cleanliness called “moderately dingy.” Deep ceiling to floor sanitization is no longer done and staff no longer goes in at Christmas or during the first week of spring break to maintain conditions, he said.

“We have employees who have been there as long as I have and longer whose attitudes have changed 180 degrees and part of it is it feels like a lack of respect,” he added.

He’s not laying blame on senior management or on trustees because he knows they too are feeling the pinch and just trying to do their jobs, which lately has been a real challenge.

To work within the 2013/1014 budget, superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach said the school board closed MacLean Elementary School and is finalizing the sale of it to Rossland’s French school to save a projected $265,000.

SD20 also used some one-time money to help continue some programming, made a reduction in clerical support at secondary schools and in the transportation department, reduced anticipated utilities cost by leasing out its Blueberry Creek site, reduced the usage of its Warfield satellite shop and sold the Sunningdale school.

The school district plans to move the district office out of the Fortis building by the end of December, has restructured its technology department and reduced the amount of technology being purchased for students to use.

Reductions have been made to administration, a lead hand allowance in its operations department has been eliminated and increased anticipated revenue from a number of sources (leases, sales from Old School Café in Castlegar and a surplus portable) have popped up.

“How the board balanced the 13/14 budget is not related to the CUPE deal,” confirmed superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach. “The board will need to find additional savings on top of all that was done  to balance the 13/14 budget.”

During the budget setting process, the board will determine exactly where the money will come from.

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