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Edmonton – Budget restrictions and school based budgeting are hammering education in Edmonton and surrounding areas say education support workers Bonnie Oakley, Doug Luellman, Trudy Grebenstein, Barbie Staples and Bruce Cutting. All five made presentations to Alberta’s Commission on Learning in Edmonton yesterday.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has evidence gathered from school board employees in Edmonton, Leduc and St. Albert that illustrates unsafe conditions in schools, inadequate learning environments and lack of support for special needs are very serious problems affecting the educational opportunities of all children.

“I think our evidence made a big impact on the Commission and we look forward to seeing it reflected in their final report,” said Barbie Staples, president of CUPE 3484 in Leduc. “The bottom line is more money is needed in the public school system and I’m certain the Commissioners heard us loud and clear,” she added.

Staples, president of CUPE 3484 in the Black Gold School Division, presented the findings from two separate membership surveys illustrating that not enough support staff combined with ever increasing demands means that many students with special needs are short-changed.

Bonnie Oakley a teaching assistant in St. Albert said, “The hours of support assessed for students are out of touch with the reality of students needs. It would only take the decision-makers a few minutes in a class to realize how serious this is for the student and the class.”

In Edmonton, school based budgeting has added an extra stress to the system rather than relieving any problems from funding shortfalls.

“The Commissioners were quite interested in the impact of school based budgeting on maintenance of schools,” said Bruce Cutting, president of CUPE 784 representing trades and maintenance workers in Edmonton Public Schools. “We told them clearly with all kinds of evidence that school maintenance is the first thing to go in a tight budget situation. This does not serve anyone well,” he said.

“In fact, schools that suffer from inadequate cleaning and maintenance of their heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have increased health problems such as mould contamination, increased reports of asthma, allergies and sick building syndrome,” said Doug Luellman president of CUPE 474 representing custodians in Edmonton Public Schools. “ There are more people in a school per square foot than the average office building. Our jobs are crucial to the health and safety of students, staff and the general public,” he said.

Trudy Grebenstein, president of CUPE 3550 in Edmonton representing teaching assistants, library technicians, technicians, food preparers and clerical staff challenged some of the myths about the push to run schools as businesses. “Pop and candy machines mean that we are relying on students purchasing junk food to support school activities. Teachers and teacher assistants now bring supplies from home to support student activities and parents are forced to fund-raise to support their schools.” Grebenstien is an accounts clerk with 26 years experience with a thorough knowledge of education budgeting.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has made presentations to the Learning Commission in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Fort McMurray and Edmonton highlighting the role that support workers play in public education.

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CUPE is Canada’s largest union with over half a million women and men who provide public services. In Alberta, CUPE’s 31,000 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 further information:

Pam Beattie CUPE Communications (780) 484-7644 or (780) 288-1230 (cellular)