CUPE workers rally at Sask. Legislature to call for better education funding

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) education workers held a rally at the Saskatchewan Legislature Tuesday to call for more education funding, with more than 50 education workers, community members and parents taking part.

“Earlier this year, the government rolled out its back on track budget. It’s a disastrous budget and a blatant attack on education,” Rob Westfield, an education suport worker and chair of CUPE Saskatchewan’s education workers’ steering committee, said at the rally.

CUPE represents more than 7,000 workers from both Catholic and public school divisions.

Westfield said the budget does not come close to covering even basic operating costs for the divisions. He said it fails to cover a 4.7 per cent increase in costs that “school boards are being forced to deal with.”

“This is resulting in larger class sizes, less individual attention for students and an overall lower quality experience for families,” he said.

Rob Westfield, chair of CUPE Saskatchewan’s Education Workers’ Steering Committee, said the government’s failure to fund growth is essentially a cut to education which will most impact the students. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

He said that while the government has provided a 16.7 per cent increase in funding to the private schools, the budget “continuously stars the public education system.”

“There’s truly nothing left to cut. School boards are already running skeleton crews.”

Westfield said many boards are considering program cuts and layoffs and called on the government to protect public education.

“Our kids deserve better and it is time to do the right thing and fully fund public education systems,” he said.

Tena Schneider, an educational assistant at Fox Valley in the Chinook School Division, has been working in the field for 19 years. She said she has survived two school closures, and is now faced with having her hours cut.

“My workday will be decreased by 30 minutes everyday. Two and a half hours every week for a total of 10 hours every month,” Schneider said.

“That equates to not a lot for some people, but to a single mom, it’s her car payments or her grocery bill. But to me, it’s an 8.3 per cent reduction in my wage.”

Tena Schneider, an educational assistant at Fox Valley in the Chinook School Division, has been working for 19 years in the field but is now faced with the reality of having her hours cut. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Schneider her the students will feel these cuts even more than her.

“Our other staff members that I work with are going to have to pick up the slack because I’m not there. They’re already stretched thin,” she said. “This is going to be an administrative nightmare.”

She said there are approximately 180 educational assistants within her division alone that will be affected by these cuts.

“Education is not a privilege in my province. It is our children’s right,” Schneider said.

NDP MLA Matt Love said at the rally that the budget is failing to invest in education and is leaving kids behind. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

NDP MLA Matt Love said at the rally that the budget didn’t invest in education.

“This government is leaving our kids behind,” Love said.

“We’re seeing staff to climb student ratios, while per student funding is plummeting.”

Love questioned Minister of Education Dustin Duncan on the education budget in question period Tuesday.

“This budget does provide for $1.99 billion in operating funding for school divisions. That’s a record amount for education funding in the province of Saskatchewan,” Duncan said in response.

Duncan said 449 educational assistant positions have been created in the last five years and that the allocation of “additional $7 million in the budget” is to hire 200 more positions.

Love also raised the concern of classrooms having more students but fewer supports.

“That’s why we are providing record funding to school divisions to ensure that schools can have the staff,” Duncan replied. “We are working with school divisions to provide $6 million as additional support in learning.”

Duncan also stated that no school division has submitted a budget for approval yet.

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