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Where is the money to prevent further deterioration of our schools?

Edmonton Years of under-funding operating costs in Albertas schools has created a huge deficit in maintenance and repair costs. The $30 million for school board operating and maintenance announced by the provincial government today does not begin to solve the problem of proper upkeep and cleaning say school board employees with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Calgary and Edmonton.

According the Calgary Board, we have a $500 million deficit for deferred maintenance and that does not include asbestos removal, says CUPE Local 40 President Drake Hammill. What percentage of $30 million is even going to make a dent in that kind of deficit? he asks.

Hammill recently toured Calgary schools with television reporters to illustrate the poor repair of school facilities.

It is a situation of pay me now or pay me later, says Frank Mettimano, President of CUPE Local 520 with the Calgary Catholic Board. Our Board is putting off important maintenance and upgrades and that will get us in the long run, he said.

The key to preventing further deterioration in our schools and big repair bills is to staff school boards appropriately. We are looking at the equivalent of 50 jobs lost in Edmonton because of school board budget shortfalls, says CUPE Local 474 President Doug Luellman. Luellman represents 600 custodians with Edmonton Public Schools.

The Calgary Public Board is also looking at substantial lay-offs. Hammill who represents 600 caretakers and maintenance staff says the number they have been given is the equivalent of 28 jobs.

We are told by the board that the lay-offs are a result of very high utility costs. But, the government is ignoring these root problems in making this kind of capital allocation. They created the utility bill problem and lay-offs will only mean the situation in our school facilities will get worse, said Hammill.

It is not a one-time drop in the bucket that we need, said Luellman. In Edmonton, we need a 50 per cent increase in funding to operate our school buildings properly. That means keeping them clean and in good repair in order to avoid huge capital costs down the road, he added.

It is the ongoing work of custodians, maintenance and caretaking staff that keep our schools clean, safe and in good repair. Yet, the government is ignoring the problem when it makes this kind of funding decision. These funds are not in the operating budgets of the Boards and cannot address the long-term problem, concluded Luellman.

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CUPE is Canada’s largest union with over half a million women and men who provide public services. In Alberta, CUPEs 32,000 members work in health care, municipalities, schools, colleges, universities, libraries, emergency medical services, social services and casinos. Visit our CUPE websites for more information www.cupe.ca and www.cupealberta.ab.ca.

For more information:
Pam Beattie, CUPE Communications - (780) 484-7644 or (780) 288-1230 (cellular)