Kootenay Lake School Board approved a savings plan after all and will now return to the table with its CUPE workers with hopes of finally hammering out a contract.
At a special meeting held Monday night, the board took a second look at the savings plan rejected in October in protest of the provincial government not funding pay increases negotiated with CUPE employees.
“This has been quite the process we’ve been going through,” said board chair Mel Joy. “We’ve been loud and clear in taking a stand… ‘No impact’ isn’t possible. Every decision we make in the savings plan will have an impact somewhere.”
The board was the last hold out in the province and they expressed disappointment that other school districts didn’t stand up with them. The Ministry of Education required local school boards to submit a cost savings plan that wouldn’t impact core services.
“I guess I had this romantic notion. I really thought other districts would come on board with us,” said trustee Rebecca Huscroft. “I really didn’t think we’d be the lone wolf out there.”
Huscroft said the board was put in a Catch-22 situation with any decision having a negative effect on students. Had the board not approved the savings plan, a strike would have likely occurred. With the savings plan approved, cuts will occur.
The school board has a contingency of $500,000 and a surplus of $300,000 to pay for the first year of the pay increase. Past year one, they see a shortfall of about $600,000 in the 2014-15 school year.
Trustee Annette Hambler-Pruden was troubled with submitting a savings plan that the board will not be able to honour. Other districts have already started to back peddle as they struggle to find funds without affecting core services.
“We cannot in all good conscience send in a legitimate statement. We are putting are names to a lie,” she said.
The board passed an amended version of the savings plan submitted by staff in October. Funds will be found through loss of CUPE jobs and cuts to services.
In September, CUPE signed a Provincial Framework Agreement with the BC government providing a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years for BC education workers. The board and their CUPE employees are back at the table next week but time is running out. They have until December 20 to have any settlement ratified.
CUPE Local 748 Michelle Bennett was glad the board chose to take a second look at the savings plan. She said it provided her members, students and parents “a little relief.”
She said she was also “shocked” that no other school boards stood up to the province and said once bargaining is complete, the union would officially support the board’s stand.
“As soon as we’re done, I am there,” she said.
Kootenay Lake board trustees have a meeting scheduled with the Ministry of Education this weekend while they are in Vancouver for a conference. The board heard nothing from the province outside the media despite their strong stance.
“I think this is quite a sham. We haven’t head anything from the ministry,” trustee Lenora Trenamen said. She and Hambler-Pruden were two trustees who voted against the savings plan.
“I have respect for the workers. I am not against the workers, that is why we took a stand in the first place,” said Trenamen.