The provincial budget is coming up short for people in the Chinook School Division, as its board of trustees has proposed cuts to educational assistant hours and a reduction in teacher numbers.
Among those affected is Heather Fisher, who has been an educational assistant (EA) for 22 years.
“We love working with the children and to have that taken from us it’s devastating. Not to mention not being able to live,” Fisher said from Swift Current.
The upcoming proposed budget from the division would see EA shifts reduced by 30 minutes a day to five-and-a-half hours. The decrease, for Fisher, means about $3,000 less a year on a salary that was $30,000 per annum. It also means she and other EAs will be classified as part-time which means it will take longer to retire, accrue vacation time and potentially the loss of benefits.
Fisher said she is concerned about speaking out, but feels it is necessary for affected parties to have their voices heard. She was one of 30 EAs who presented to the Chinook board of education Monday afternoon.
“I’m nervous about it to be completely honest,” said Fisher. “We’re not sure what the repercussions will be because we are not unionized.”
In a letter sent to families and published on the division’s website on March 31, the division says the provincial budget came up short, and as such, staff reductions were imminent.
“The board has no alternative but to address the structural deficit that has developed over several years of provincial underfunding,” the letter read in part.
It went on to say that there are approximately 20 teaching positions that will have to be eliminated across the division. However, that is expected to be achieved through attrition by not hiring for retiring teachers and other such measures.
Kim Pridmore, Chinook School Division Board chair said these decisions have not been made lightly, and she understands the impact this will have on students.
“People get into this position because they truly want to have a positive impact on education in their community,” said Pridmore. And while there is much to be positive about around the division, “it’s just overshadowed by the constant underfunding.”
The provincial budget brought in an additional $560,000 from the previous year to the division, but according to Pridmore, the division needed around $2 million to keep up with inflation. In the letter sent to parents, the division said it was going into the 2022–23 school year with a $5.1-million deficit.
This funding issue falls squarely on the shoulders of the province, said Pridmore.
When the penny dropped on March 23, the provincial budget boasted “record support” for education to the tune of a 1.3-per-cent increase, or an additional $47 million, compared to 2021–22.
But record spending from the province does not mean that spending has kept up with inflation, nor does it mean that past cuts and reductions have been restored.
“We’ve done all that we can to keep cuts from the classroom,” she said. “But our concerns around funding have been going on for years here.”
Pridmore said funding shortfalls have been an issue since 2016 and, up until now, cuts come by way of non-classroom related areas.
“It’s hard,” said Pridmore. “It’s hard to know that you’re potentially taking away services from them.”
Both Pridmore and Fisher expect that this is not an issue specific to the Chinook Division, and will become more visible as school divisions finalize budgets.
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