Fat cut, now into bone, muscle: teachers union

Although relieved the New Westminster school district isn't considering layoffs to recover its $2.8 million deficit, the teachers union is leery about a proposal to cut $500,000 through "staffing adjustments."

At a board of education meeting Tuesday, district superintendent John Woudzia added the category to the list he presented last week. It was in response to a request from the board for more options.

Instead of replacing staff not in the classroom on either a short-term or long-term basis, Woudzia is proposing to redeploy staff to cover for them. For example that could mean a resource teacher, teacher-librarian, counsellor, music teacher or administrator filling in.

Teachers union president Grant Osborne questioned how this would work and whether the replacements would have the skills required.

"I'm very curious as to how they're going to identify positions for redeployment, especially when they're looking at such a significant amount [in staffing adjustments]," Osborne said.

Woudzia also proposed not filling leaves for staff in non-essential positions.

"I would be curious what those non-essential positions would be," Osborne said. "We cut fat years ago, we're now into bone and muscle. I was pleased to hear they were not talking about mid-year layoffs. So that's good."

How the adjustments affect class size and composition is also a concern. Osborne said while New Westminster is doing fairly well with size—although there a lot of classes close to the 30 student maximum—composition is always an issue. He said the system at the start of the year was already under stress.

"We haven't really felt it yet, and we're certainly concerned about what may be coming down the road," he said. "There have been some impacts, but until the board actually approves the measures that need to be taken we won't fully understand the impacts of the measures we'll be taking."

Osborne said the union will be working with the district as they flesh the details out.

The district will meet with the Ministry of Education on Friday to discuss the proposed deficit recovery plan. Board chair Michael Ewen said the board will meet weekly in January to go over all the options.

"It's not obviously an ideal situation," said Ewen. "It will be a process that I think it will take us about a month."

He said districts in the past have used redeployment to try and recover deficits. Ewen said the redeployment wouldn't necessarily just be for teachers, but for administration as well.

The board will be going through each option one-by-one, said Ewen, and the district will set up an online feedback system to get the community's reaction to the proposals.

Both Ewen and trustee Casey Cook said the sooner the decisions are made the more money that can be saved.

"Time is ticking away," said Cook. "As time goes on your ability to makes cuts, your range of choices diminishes. To make cuts over a 40-week period is not the same as a 28-week period."

Cook isn't sure Woudzia's proposals to sell property in Queensborough, which is expected to bring in $450,000, and to defer committed contributions for replacement of the skate park at NWSS ($250,000) and equipment replacement ($75,000) are good ideas.

"The use of capital funds to support operating is abhorrent to some. In fact, there's strict guidelines with the ministry on the disposition of land. It's not something that's lightly done," said Cook.

Trustee Lisa Graham attempted to have a proposal scrapped that would save $64,000 by cutting short the school year for 19-year-old students in its special education programs. But her motion only received support from Jonina Campbell. Graham said the move would affect four students this year, preventing them from completing their transition to adult community programs.

"They are entitled by legislation to remain in school for the duration of the calendar year, and because they are fully funded for that calendar year, it is wrong to ask them to leave," said Graham.

She was disgusted such a move was being proposed and said it would reflect poorly on the district.

"There has to be transitioning out of school into summer, let alone out of school permanently. To just all of a sudden say thank you, you're time has now come to an end, it's too abrupt. I'm concerned about the effects on the students, and families," Graham said. "I'm concerned these kids won't be able to walk across the graduation stage to receive their completion certificates in a way you would expect this process to be."

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