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School Board trustees 'didn’t have the support locally to go forward'

Bruce Fuhr
By Bruce Fuhr
December 4th, 2013

In the end, it was the lack of real support and potential threats of being removed from office that changed the thinking of Kootenay Lake School Board trustees during a special open meeting Monday at the board office.

“The trustees felt we didn’t have the support locally to go forward in a fight situation and it was time to shift the direction that we’re heading in put forth a saving plan,” Kootenay Lake School Board chairperson Mel Joy told The Nelson Daily.

Monday’s special meeting was held to deal with the on-going labour dispute with CUPE Local 748 supporter workers — which includes all employees in the School District No. 8 except members of the Kootenay Lake Teachers’ Federation and excluded management positions — and the Kootenay Lake School Board.

Kootenay Lake School Board was the lone district in the province that refused to submit a savings plan to the provincial government by the October 15 deadline to cover the Provincial Framework Agreement providing a 3.5% wage increase for BC education workers.

The agreement was negotiated in September between CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council Bargaining Subcommittee and BC Government.

The deal, hammered out September 18 in Vancouver, was a tentative two-year deal, retroactive to July 1, 2012, that includes a 3.5-per-cent wage increase over the two years — and one percent wage increase on July 1, 2013, two percent on February 1, 2014 and 0.5 percent on May 1, 2014 — introduces a system for up-front prescription costs.

However, with no submission of a cost savings plan to the government, the Kootenay Lake School Board was in no position to negotiate with CUPE Local 748.

“I think the trustees felt we didn’t have the support locally to go forward . . . it was like half support,” Joy explained.

“People have been saying, you should say that, you’re doing great, that’s excellent . . . you’re standing up and on the other side they’re like, you know who your impacting and implications of the decisions your making.”

Joy also said trustees were concerned with the threat the ministry officials could remove board members from their positions before jettisoning a rep from Victoria to make the district’s decisions.

“I think trustees were afraid . . . not of being fired necessarily from our district that has trustees worried, it’s having someone come in from the ministry and make the decisions that we believe we can make better because we’re local and are very much in tune with our schools,” Joy said.

“Now while cutting your budget is difficult, you have your people within the community making that decision so I think you have a better chance of decision being right for your district when its local that if its someone from Victoria coming in and doing that.”

Joy said the board would send the cost saving plan document to the Ministry of Education Tuesday.

However, before local bargaining resumes December 12 & 13, Kootenay Lake officials gets a meeting with the ministry during a trustee’s academy Saturday in Vancouver.

“Our message is going to be the same thing that we’ve been saying that (government) needed to fund this wage increase,” Joy said. “Playing with the board’s budget at the bargaining table is not fair.”

“All we’re asking for them is to change that criteria,” Joy added. “If we have to impact our budgets then so do you.”

And what about the threat of the December 20 deadline, to have a ratified deal in place for Kootenay Lake School District, Joy wanted to take an optimistic approach.

“The only silver lining in this situation is we do now have a savings plan that will need the approval of the ministry and then we’ll have to go back the bargaining table and have those discussions,” she said.

“The local bargaining will continue, but I’m sure we’ll work together and come to a resolution by that time.”

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