Surrey Board of Education chairperson Shawn Wilson.

Surrey Board of Education chairperson Shawn Wilson.

Raises for school support workers would cost Surrey $5 million per year

Victoria tells districts to find savings and pick up the tab for any CUPE wage increases.

The provincial government has once again told cash-strapped school districts that they’ll have to find the money to cover any raises that might be negotiated with school support staff.

School workers such as custodians, clerical workers, education assistants and maintenance staff, represented by CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), have been without a pay increase for four years and are seeking a two-per-cent increase for the next two years.

For Surrey, the largest school district in B.C. with about 3,840 CUPE members, that equates to approximately $5 million annually.

Surrey Board of Education Chair Shawn Wilson confirmed Wednesday that staff has been asked to come up with recommendations to cover the additional recurring cost.

While he was hoping the province would fund pay increases, it’s become clear that’s simply not going to happen.

“We don’t really like it, but we’re not setting our hair on fire,” said Wilson. “Our position has always been that government is the boss, they run the ministry and we’re their servants and if they say find savings… what choice do you have?”

He said while it’s inevitable redirecting funds will have some impact on students, it’s hoped savings can be found in areas as far away from the classroom as possible.

Wilson said during a meeting with the education minster last week, he suggested the province provide more specific guidelines to districts as they look for places to cut back.

“I don’t think there’s any question that CUPE deserves a raise,” said Wilson. “Relative to other public sectors, there really should be some recognition of that. They’ve gone so many years with net zero.”

Talks are scheduled to resume next week between the province and CUPE school workers.

While last week it appeared a strike was in the cards, bargaining is set to resume Wednesday (Sept. 4), the day after classes start for the 2013/14 school year.