School secretary cuts cause concern

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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C.B.S. school council chairman questions cutting front-line education workers

NLTA president Lilly Cole

John Smith knows how much teachers, students, and parents at Queen Elizabeth Regional High (QERH) in Conception Bay South depend on the work of the school’s two secretaries.

That’s why Smith, who has chaired the school council for the past seven years, was particularly disappointed to learn QERH is one of several schools in the Eastern School District facing cuts to secretarial services.

“The secretaries are the central nervous system of the school, and once you cut that, everything else is affected at different levels,” said Smith.

According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), 13 positions are set to be affected.

Two positions will be made redundant and 11 more will have hours reduced from seven per day to six.

Smith, who is also past-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (NLFSC), believes QERH will lose a five-hour secretarial position as a result of the cuts. He first learned of them Thursday.

“There was no consultation with anyone,” he said. “As a school council, we’re there to advise and advocate for services at the schools. Nobody brought this up before school ended.”

Smith said he wonders who will be expected to handle the extra work once the five-hour position is eliminated at the school, which has a student population of almost 600.

“It falls back to the administration, who have their hands full dealing with other school issues,” he said, noting there are always new challenges to face in the education system.

“I feel they’re cutting the wrong area. And the wrong area, obviously, is starting with front-line workers.”

Timing questioned

Ruby Hoskins, the current NLFSC president, finds the timing of the cuts suspect, given they came after the latest school year finished.

She said she believes this was done to minimize public reaction from parents of students at affected schools.

Hoskins said many parents are now on vacation with their children.

“It’s not really going to hit home for many people until school reopens in September, and by that time (the Eastern School District) figures it’s going to blow over and you’re not going to get much feedback on it anyway.”

Instead of cutting front-line workers, Hoskins says the school district should look at reducing board travel expenses.

“The fat tends to float to the top,” she said. “I don’t think our school systems can support anymore cuts. ... It’s been hit a lot in the last few years.”

Smith said while the school may witness a student enrollment decline of approximately 10 students, he does not see how that can necessitate eliminating a part-time secretarial position.

In a news release issued last week, the Eastern School District said secretary allocations were determined in compliance with the collective agreement, an issue CUPE is not disputing.

Dr. Bruce Vey, director of education and CEO for the district, went on to say the move is not related to budget reductions.

Allocations increase or decrease depending on the number of students attending a school.

“I’m not really happy with (declining enrollment) being their excuse, because the secretaries are the front-line workers in our schools” said Lily Cole, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association. “When students come in the mornings, recess and lunch, that’s who they go to if they need any assistance of any kind.”

 

Emergencies

Cole is concerned parents with an emergency may face new difficulties when attempting to contact a school by phone.

“Will they now get a live person, or will they be going to an answering machine?”

Cole also worries that if administrators and teachers must cover for the loss of secretary hours, instructional time will likewise feel the effects.

Hoskins said there is an argument to be made for moving away from allocation formulas when it comes to staffing schools with both teachers and secretaries.

“When it comes to allocating formulas, there’s just a lot of things that aren’t taken into consideration, and its not just the secretarial hours that are going to be affected. ... What they do in our school system is certainly more than secretarial work.”

Smith said the 2008 provincial budget included $1 million to increase the number of available secretary hours.

“So the government recognized the importance of secretaries as the first point of contact for everyone concerned, so why is there a change now?”

Eastern School District has extended CUPE an invitation to meet next week, which the union has accepted.

According to CUPE national representative Brian Farewell, the two sides are scheduled to meet Tuesday.

A spokesman for the school district said it will not comment on the matter before the Tuesday meeting.

Smith said he hopes the school district is willing to reconsider its position.

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TeleAndrew

 

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, C.B.S. school council Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers

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Recent comments

  • MYOPINION
    July 06, 2012 - 09:23

    This may not be completely relevant to the "meat" of this article but the title "Secretary" is used very rarely today. The title "Administrative Professional" is more widely used.

  • David
    July 06, 2012 - 09:21

    To all you overpaid teahcers who are scared to death that you won't have your secretary to bail you out and cover up your mistakes ......pass the hat and make up the shortfall up out of your own 'spare' money. The taxpayer is tapped out.

    • Chantal
      July 06, 2012 - 10:46

      The "taxpayer" is tapped out from bailing out irresponsible businesses and bankers.

  • Harvey
    July 06, 2012 - 07:57

    I'm getting the feeling that, in this province, authorities in many sectors are becoming disciples of Harper. Look at the provincial government, the health care board and now the eastern educational board ...all cutting and chopping job positions. Whatever happened to our "have status province"? Do positions of authority go to the heads of some people ? Are their decisions based on decent decision-making ? Just wondering !!!

  • Dan
    July 06, 2012 - 07:24

    Libby Cole is a good leader and a real looker!

    • Pitt
      July 06, 2012 - 08:19

      Speaking from Experience as a former educator, the Secretaries are the glue that keeps most schools together. Most go above and beyond what is in their actual job descriptions. These cuts are a farce, and the total savings of $80,000 is a joke. A better alternative would be for the Board to look within, ie Managemnet, staff, etc. One job cut from upper management would achieve the same cost savings with NO impact on the schools in the area. ALL school Boards in this province are very top heavy and the teachers in the schools really need more support not less. Ask any young teacher coming in to the system now, schools have inedequate resourcse as it is, in terms of staffing, basic supplies, etc. Most teachers I know spent hundreds of dollars from their OWN pockets just to buy essesntials for their classrooms. Last year the Auditor General ripped into the Central Board for mismanagemnet of funds. Oddly enough, the School Board Office in Gander just had a rather extensive makeover of new siding and bricks. I would guess the costs were quite substantial. Yet a few hundred meters up the street Gander Acacdemy sits there relatively unchanged from it's construction of the mid 1950's. Kids have no Art room for goodness sakes. If it were not so sad for the students who go there it would be laughable. Glad I retired when I did.