And then there were none. The School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) board of education voted last night to end its refusal to absorb the costs of a provincially negotiated wage hike for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 748 workers.
While many school districts objected to having to find savings to fund the cost increases when the contract was signed last spring, Kootenay Lake was the only district that didn’t submit a savings plan to cover the expenditure.
That all changed in a special meeting in Nelson last night, though, when the board voted to avert a threatened CUPE strike by submitting a savings plan to the provincial Ministry of Education.
The plan, board chair Mel Joy said this morning, will reallocate money within the current budget in an effort to minimize impact on classrooms. It will include not filling the vacant district principal position and increasing international student tuition by $500 annually.
“The ministry did not respond whatsoever to the stand that we took,” a frustrated Joy said. “The second piece was that while CUPE members supported our direction, they wanted discussion at the bargaining table.”
Kootenay Lake CUPE workers had threatened to strike if they weren’t paid what their provincial counterparts had negotiated.
“In the end, locally we didn’t have the support to continue and provincially we were a lone voice,” she said. “Our choice came down to forcing a strike situation, something that none of us wanted to do.”
Ultimately, Joy admitted, the Ministry of Education could have simply fired the school board and replaced it with a supervisor.
“With all the other districts not taking the stand we did, the ministry wasn’t going to feel the need to change direction,” she said. “But even a little bit of understanding would have been nice.”
Instead, the board of education heard nothing but a very loud silence from the province about the contentious issue.
“If the board had put the district into a strike situation that impacted families and students, maybe their (Ministry of Education’s) response would have been more drastic.”
Joy credits Creston south rural zone trustee Annette Hambler for her work in helping to ensure the savings plan would have minimal impact on students in the classroom.
“In the grand scheme, parents probably won’t notice the difference right away,” she said. “But we start our next budget planning sessions with a $600,000 deficit.”
The 2014 budget will no longer include special funding from the province to districts that have faced declining enrolment. Elimination of that funding was announced two years ago.