Part-time staff protest school shutdown proposal

Aboriginal support workers Stan Thomas (left) and Sheila Jack spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting. - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Aboriginal support workers Stan Thomas (left) and Sheila Jack spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

A proposal to save money by closing Langley schools for six more days a year will hurt hundreds of employees, trustees were told Tuesday.

The union that represents 488 part-time and temporary support staff predicted they will lose $1.2 million in pay over three years if the school board goes ahead with a plan to increase the March spring break from one week to two and add an extra day to the Remembrance Day long weekend.

It is estimated the change to the school calendar would save the debt-ridden district somewhere between $225,000 and $639,000 a year.

Most of that would be at the expense of part-time staff, according to CUPE Local 1260, the union that represents district staff who are employed for less than 12 months a year.

The union says that while teachers will work a few extra minutes every day to make up for the shutdown and likely be paid extra for doing it, part-time staff will not.

“The proposal on the table singles out approximately 488 of our members to bear the brunt of paying back a deficit created through the district’s errors in accounting,” said Kelly Dussin, a special education assistant and chief shop steward for CUPE local 1260 .

Dussin and several other part-time district staff appeared before the school board Tuesday to complain that the bulk of savings will come at the expense of part-timers.

Another special education assistant, Joanne Clement, said it will amount to  $1.2 million in lost wages over three years “on the back of our support staff.”

Aboriginal support worker Stanley Thomas, who said he has 150 students in his caseload, appeared before trustees wearing a traditional button blanket.

Thomas warned that forcing staff to apply for two weeks of employment insurance benefits during spring break will mean added financial stress.

“By the time EI kicks in we are already broke and bills are stacking up,” Thomas said.

“When we start work again, we are financially struggling.”

Another aboriginal support worker, Sheila Jack, said employment insurance doesn’t replace full pay, and the extra lay-off could hurt EI eligibility for some.

“I cannot help but wonder if employees in our positions are not being appreciated or held in as high esteem as other distract employees,” Jack said.

The proposal is scheduled to go before the April 19 board meeting for approval.

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