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BURNABY The Labour Day holiday usually marks the final weekend before a new school year begins, but in the under-funded school districts of British Columbia the back-to-school sale flyers are about two weeks premature, says CUPE B.C. president Barry ONeill.

Some B.C. communities may well remember 2004 as the year students didnt go back to school until half way through September, or the year the school week was shortened to four days, says ONeill. Parents of prospective post-secondary students may remember it as the year their children were denied access due to rising costs and less support for students.

ONeill is calling on all education stakeholders to press the provincial government for more funding.

In Parksville/Qualicum, the school board cut ten days out of the school year. Students dont return to class in the seaside district until September 13. And there will be more forced days off this coming year.

Provincial government under-funding is forcing many B.C. school districtsincluding North Vancouver, Langley, Saanich and Cranbrookto cut between 3 and 10 instructional days this year. Meanwhile, Gulf Islands school trustees have joined Coast Mountain and Boundary by introducing a four-day school week for local students.

Parents know in their gut that extending school days by a few minutes, here and there, will not make up for the days, sometimes weeks, lost to budget cuts. This is the future of our childrens education the government is playing with, says ONeill.

The union leader warns that the current provincial trend toward privatization is promoting inequality throughout the public education system. The system is cracking, says ONeill, as a result of Liberal governments imposed cuts on public school districts and increases in tuition fees for university and college students while pouring millions of new dollars into elite private and independent schools.

Funding education is the provincial governments job. As the elected guardians of public education, school trustees should be able to focus on defending the educational needs of our children. We want more of them to stand up against the provinces freeze on education spending and look to their communities for support. If school trustees dont take a strong stand in favour of an adequately funded education system, then who will?

ONeill isnt shooting the messenger and does not blame individual trustees who are making gut-wrenching decisions to close schools and reduce school days because of their legal requirement to balance school district budgets. Many trustees have spoken out and some boards have attempted to pass realistic budgets, says ONeill, but wed like to see the B.C. School Trustees Association take a stronger public stand against the school closures and cuts to school days.

ONeill is calling on school trustees to join working parents and support staff throughout B.C. who have been mounting local campaigns to save their schools.

About half of CUPE B.C.s 65,000 members provide the services that support the public education system at all levels, says ONeill.

Strong communities are built upon the foundation of a sound public education system. CUPE B.C. is working with parents, trustees, teachers and all members of the Coalition for Public Education to demand a renewed provincial commitment to public education in B.C.

ONeill will join B.C. Teachers Federation president Jinny Sims and others on September 13 from 7 until 9 p.m. in an information session and rally planned for Salt Spring Island. The event is aimed at encouraging Gulf Islands school trustees to bring back the five-day school week.

Contact: Barry ONeill, CUPE B.C. President, 604-916-8444, or Louise Leclair, CUPE Communications, 604-454-4711.

Background information: For more information check out CUPE B.C.s website at www.cupe.bc.ca and click on the green tower.

Check out the Keep Five Alive website put together by Gulf Islands School Parents www.keepfivealive.ca

Check out the Coalition for Public Educations website www.opening-doors.bc.ca

Read a detailed article on the realities of the four-day school week by Gulf Island resident, parent and researcher David Banks (see above websites).

Go to the CUPE B.C. website at http://www.cupe.bc.ca/files/labour_day_picnics.pdf for Labour Day events around the province.