To the Editor:
Recently, the provincial government negotiated a settlement with CUPE that required local school boards to find partial funding for the settlement within their current budgets. We applaud our local trustees, who have decided to finally stand up and tell the government that — despite the government’s bullying tactics — they believe there is no money to be used to finance a settlement that our school board did not negotiate.
We have stood for years at board meetings and demanded — even begged — the trustees tell the government they are not receiving the funding necessary to keep public education viable. This is the first time trustees have actually stated clearly to the government that their general funding level is inadequate — and it appears that this board may be the only one in the province that has taken this stand. Other boards across the province seem to have made cuts to services and have been able to fund the settlement through these cuts and their surpluses; our board is standing firm and defying the government interference with their budget process.
The complication in this sad story is that the School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) board actually has a surplus. Yes, while crying poverty, our board has amassed a surplus of almost S1.9 million dollars. Some of the money is budgeted for future spending, but $800,000 is unallocated and could be used partially to help resolve this dilemma.
CUPE workers and teachers have been impacted by cuts the board has made in the last few years to amass the surplus. Ask any teacher if they need supplies, or if they believe classroom supports are adequate and their answer will be that they are working in conditions that are woefully insufficient and that they believe the board does not receive enough money from the government.
The government’s tactic of pressuring local boards to spend surplus money is a bullying tactic. The fact our board has a surplus in a time of dire need is shameful. The sticky web the government has woven does not acknowledge that the surplus held by this board is not sustainable — that any effort to meet the contract settlement will mean further cuts in a district that cannot continue to operate without increased funding.
If this board does not provide the government with a “savings plan” to meet the demands of the CUPE settlement, the government has offered to “help” the board find the money in its budget. The hands of the bully will be in the till, scraping more money out of a poorly funded system.
Our local trustees have taken a stand at a time when the specific battle is futile; the attack on public education has been long-standing — they need to form alliances with other provincial trustees, and they need to develop a strategy going forward that will ensure local workers are not the only ones in the province who are damaged by the latest bully tactic by the government.
The battle will be lost if they fight now, and the casualties will be local workers. They need to be far more strategic to win the war to save public education.
Rebecca Blair, President
Creston Valley Teachers’ Association