Open letter to Kootenay Lake School Board chairperson Mel Joy.
In response to documents received at the most recent finance committee meeting (after months of requests), we were pleased to note that the Kootenay Lake Teachers Federation’s figures were indeed correct all along — that the board of education had reduced teacher staffing by far more than the amount voted on and agreed to at public finance and board meetings last year (when the budget was being established for this year). We remain very displeased that it took the board five months to provide confirmation of the teacher reduction numbers that the union presented in October.
The board passed a budget indicating that teaching full time equivalents (FTE) would be reduced by 19 FTE — minutes of the meetings during budget setting indicate that some trustees were concerned about the staffing reduction and they were reassured that the reduction would likely mainly be achieved through retirements.
There were 17 retirements throughout the district last year, which should have very nearly achieved the staffing reduction deemed to be necessary — yet the report provided each year to the ministry by the district indicates that the actual reduction of teacher FTE is over 30 teachers. This greatly exceeds the number reported to the public and the union.
We have been finally provided with documentation at the finance committee meetings which validates our claim of the loss of over 30 FTE this year as compared to last year. However, we question additional information provided by a document presented at the same meeting about the loss of teachers in classrooms.
To be very clear, the Learning Improvement Fund (LIF) funds allocated were to be additions to staffing to meet specific needs identified at schools after minimal staffing dictated by the budget was established. Further, we note that the employer has chosen to allocate more of the LIF funds to CUPE hiring than required by legislation. They means that the employer chose to not increase teacher staffing at the level they could have with LIF funds to avoid exceeding the already significant loss of teaching FTE anticipated in the budget.
Another form of data presented was the Form 2003 document which was presented at the meeting and shows a loss of over 39 teacher educator salaries and really muddies the conversation as it includes principals and vice principals in the data, and is based on salaries which vary according to experience and the education levels of the individuals being paid the salaries. We do not understand why it was presented; it is not related to the reduction of teacher FTE at all.
The HR positions listing would be an inaccurate comparison as well. The report of annualized FTE distorts staffing and has never been used to report to the staffing information in previous years. It is indeed a very accurate report of teachers employed — or on leave. You cannot measure teacher FTE which reflects a teacher on maternity leave or sick leave, for example, which has not been replaced at a school yet is annualized in the position listing. They are not teachers currently working with students.
The FTE number used at finance meetings in every other year has been the number the union sees as a report of FTE paying dues. We have brought this report to each finance committee meeting. We are unsure as to why other numbers and data are being used by the employer. It is what it is. We have lost far more FTE in this district than the board indicated we would. The cut of over 30 FTE is far deeper than anticipated and reported to the public.
The union also wishes to point out that the district has reported to the ministry an increase in student enrolment over last year. We note that ministry documents also report that Kindergarten class size average in this district is amongst the highest in the province. Apparently, the board has chosen to significantly reduce teacher staffing at a time when there are actually more students.
We are left wondering if the board is truly aware of the severe impact that the reduction of teachers has had to the students in this district. The Kootenay Lake Teachers Federation wishes to ask three specific questions:
1. Why did the board of education decide to reduce teacher FTE by 30 rather than by 19?
2. When was this decision made?
3. Why was this decision made in private, and not in public?
We look forward to a timely response regarding our questions.
Rebecca Blair and Tom Newell
Kootenay Lake Teachers