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School board workers in western Newfoundland are stepping up their fight against recent job cuts in School District 3, including making it an election issue if rumours are true that Roger Grimes is about to call one.

Local 3148 represents some 260 school board workers in District 3 (Corner Brook, Deer Lake, St. Barbe). During the summer, the employer cut five full-time maintenance positions based in Corner Brook. The work, which involved carrying out maintenance duties throughout the huge geographical district that includes 30 schools in 17 communities in western Newfoundland, will now be done mainly by school caretakers.
The cuts will leave only two full-time regional maintenance workers and two electricians based in Corner Brook and Deer Lake.

“These workers will now be expected to shoulder a bigger workload than will be humanly possible,” says Wayne Lucas, president of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador. “It puts our schools in a situation that is both unsafe and unworkable.”

The school board has also reduced secretarial hours across the district. Says Lucas, “For any school to run efficiently, secretarial personnel must be present during school hours to provide front-line, face-to-face or over-the-phone response to parents and others who contact or enter the school.

“Along with caretakers, we are the eyes and ears of the school … and yet we continue to receive the short end of the stick when it comes to staffing issues and the provinces funding formula.”

The Department of Education is planning a study group on hours of work, which is set to commence Sept. 30. The study group, which will be travelling throughout the province, will hear from CUPE Local 3148 in Corner Brook on Oct. 1.

Some of the recommendations CUPE will present include allocating a base rate of hours for each school.

“Currently, the funding formula calls for 10.2 hours per week for 100 students,” says Lucas. “For smaller schools, this amounts to little or no services and is clearly unworkable. We are recommending a base rate of 15 hours a week be established.”

The union wants School District 3 to hold off on its job cuts until the work of the study group is completed.

Says Lucas, “We will be seizing the opportunity to make this an election issue.” Local 3148 members will start with an information picket throughout the district this weekend, and will be handing out information brochures to the general public.