Funding hasn’t restored service for N.B. students: unions

Say a quarter of nearly 600 laid-off staff members have not been re-hired

The New Brunswick government may have reversed $2.9 million in cuts to school support staff, but union leaders claimed Tuesday that it hasn’t restored the same level of service.

CUPE spokeswoman Sandy Harding said a quarter of the 588 teacher assistants, library assistants and behaviour intervention workers who received lay-off notices in June have not been rehired.

“The situation is far from being back to normal,” said Harding.

“Some support staff have seen their hours reduced drastically while others will work in two or three schools in order to be able to put in the same amount of hours they had before.”

The money was originally cut in the spring budget, but Education Minister Roland Hache reversed the decision last month shortly after taking on the portfolio in a cabinet shuffle.

Harding told reporters that many parents are under the false impression that when the provincial government reversed the budget cut in July, it fully restored services.

“We’re really worried about the integrity of an inclusive education system if you have to pair up three different students in three different grades…the impact will be there, and it will be there for the other students as well.”

But Valmond Guimond, director of human resources for the Department of Education, said some school districts are still assigning staff for the upcoming school year and he expects the actual number of layoffs will be very low.

He said with eight of the 14 districts reporting so far there have been 21 layoffs.

Another 102 employees have had their hours reduced – about half of them losing just two hours per week.

Guimond said some of the layoffs could result from budget cuts in other areas and declining student enrolment – down about 3,500 this year.

He said the province hands out the money, but it’s up to each district to decide the level of support staff they need.

“It is not uncommon for a district to look at its needs and determine it would rather decrease the number of teacher assistants and increase the number of resource teachers or other services,” he said.

Still, the union says the province should be improving services not cutting them.

“There are many more students with special needs coming into the system than graduate out of the system, so realistically there should be more supports added,” said Harding.

Donna Hebert, an intervention worker from Rexton, N.B., said students are being put at risk because of staff cuts.

She said intervention workers will have to split their time among schools and may not be available where they are needed.

The union is circulating a petition, will hold information pickets this weekend, and plans to meet with the education minister early next month.

– The Canadian Press