LETTER: 70+ hours unpaid overtime in Slocan tragedy nets school psychologist pay dock for `job action`
May 27, 2014
Christy Clark, Premier
RE: $596.82 pay deducted for 70 hours of overtime?
Dear Ms. Clark:
Today wasn’t a great day for me personally. Neither was yesterday. Nor last week. Not even the week before.
In fact, difficult days have been the norm since I was pulled away from preparing Mother’s Day brunch for my wonderful wife (who, coincidentally enough, flourished as a teacher in California and Manitoba before becoming disillusioned with the BC educational system and recently switched careers after 17 years). What pulled me away from prepping waffles and eggs Florentine 16 days ago?
A text alerting me of a tragedy on Slocan Lake. So, instead of cooking brunch and spending a lovely Mother’s Day with my wife and two children (who happen to attend public school), I drove for an hour-and-a-half to get to Lucerne Elementary Secondary School in New Denver.
There, I coordinated a critical incident crisis management plan to provide trauma grief support for the children, youth and adults of this small town that has been devastated by the tragic loss of four young people.
I’m a psychologist who has worked in publicly-funded and private hospitals in California, three publicly-funded hospitals in Manitoba, one publicly funded youth addictions treatment centre in Ontario, and in my own private practice for over 10 years in British Columbia.
Having been frustrated for years by the challenges that children, youth, and their families face in trying to access adequate services and supports for anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, FASD and learning disabilities within our school system, I chose to leave the world of private health care in order to try to make a difference in public education. I felt that the substantial pay cut would be worth it in order to join the ranks of so many dedicated teachers, educational assistants, health care professionals, special education teachers, counsellors, school administrators and trustees who strive selflessly every day to help children and youth flourish.
Back to Mother’s Day … I spent 12 hours away from my own family doing very challenging work to support the staff who support the students in our schools. I worked 12 to 15 hour days each of the next five school days doing trauma and grief counselling at Lucerne school.
The teachers, support staff, school counsellor, principal, district administrators, Selkirk College counsellors, Child and Youth Mental Health counsellors and managers, and RCMP members worked as hard, or harder, than I did that first week while search boats plied the waters of Bigelow Bay, news trucks drove around the village of New Denver getting their stories, and helicopters circled overhead. Some of these teachers and administrators volunteered countless hours and sleepless nights assisting the search and recovery efforts. Then they came to school unshaven and bleary-eyed the next day, determined to maintain as much normalcy at school as humanly possible for their students who were the classmates, friends and relatives of the deceased.
Of course these people, who are employed by the citizens of British Columbia, gave willingly of their time, energy and tears as any decent human being would in a crisis.
The following week, I continued working 12 hour days shuttling between New Denver and schools in Nelson supporting the classmates and families of the deceased who were struggling to come to terms with their catastrophic losses.
I provided consultation, support and suggestions to their teachers, counsellors and educational assistants who are already stretched thin by years of chronic staff shortages and funding shortfalls in our public education, children’s services and health care systems.
I took a short break from the crises this past Saturday to continue my months of volunteering as the local Community Champion for Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk. Most of our dedicated volunteer organizers have publicly funded jobs in health, mental health, community service, teaching, school counselling and school administration.
Though busy and hectic, Saturday was a welcome and invigorating reprieve from two weeks immersed in tragedy. It was rejuvenating to experience the energy of a whole community riding the energy of a Canadian icon and hero who truly understands and is willing to dedicate her life to overcoming the stigma of mental health and to relentlessly challenging the woeful underfunding of research, treatment and systemic solutions for mental illness.
There wasn’t much of a break though, as I was awakened Sunday morning by a phone call informing me that a student at one of the 21 schools I’m responsible for was on life support in ICU after an accidental drug overdose. I spent much of the day Sunday and most of the evening with other caring school staff (CUPE, BCTF, principal, and senior administrators) to plan supports for this student’s family, friends and classmates.
Monday morning, while continuing to support the staff at the school where the hospitalized student learns, a dedicated and caring school administrator and I were informed that we were needed at another school to help the staff there prepare to gently inform their students that their classmates’ parent had been killed in a tragic accident. But before we even reached our vehicle to drive to the school, a text informed us that a recent graduate from another school had died.
On the way to the school to support the staff whose students’ parent had been killed, we responded to a phone call from another concerned administrator at yet a different school alerting us that one of our at-risk students had disclosed significant abuse. So last night while my children were watching a movie with their mother (the same recovering teacher who missed out on her Mother’s Day), I was on the phone again following up with the response to the New Denver tragedy and then again planning our support for the school staff and students who had lost a recent graduate.
Today started for me before my own children had even eaten breakfast when I left early to drive 130 km to another grieving school. I worked once again with dedicated teachers, school counselors, another psychologist and several incredible principals and administrators to make sure that students were safe and being cared for.
Today ended for me after my own children had already eaten supper when I finally arrived home at 7 p.m. After working more than 70 hours of unpaid overtime in the past 16 days, I opened my paycheck to see that – even prior to tomorrow’s first scheduled strike day in our district – you had deducted $596.82 from my family’s income for what you describe on my paystub as “job action.”
Dr. Todd Kettner