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Peterborough Catholic school board rejects union claims of 200 job cuts

Click to play video 'PVNC, KPR will close schools on Monday if education workers strike' PVNC, KPR will close schools on Monday if education workers strike
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The Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board rejects a union claim that more 200 education workers have received layoff notices.

In a release issued Thursday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says it has calculated that 200 positions, including 80 full-time jobs, have been lost. The union lays the blame squarely on the provincial government’s cuts to Grants for Student Needs (GSN) and other funding sources.

CUPE represents nearly 800 workers at the board.

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“My colleagues and I are genuinely worried about what will happen to PVNC students in September,” stated Nora Shaughnessy, president of CUPE Local 1453.

“Each lost job represents vital services that PVNC students won’t have access to next year.”

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However, Michael Nasello, the board’s director of education, tells Global News Peterborough that the 200 positions claim “is absolutely not accurate.”

He says the board was faced with a $5-million funding shortfall, resulting in 55 layoff notices issued to CUPE employees on May 23. The layoffs are effective Aug. 30. Many of the support staff may be reassigned by the beginning of the next school year.

He noted that due to the provincial legislation for larger class sizes, 30 teaching positions (mainly in secondary schools) were also eliminated through attrition (retirements).

“They were given notices of layoff which put them into a process that’s outlined in their collective agreement for picking other positions — according to seniority — and that process has been unfolding over the past four to five weeks,” he said.

CUPE claims the hardest hit will be students with special needs as they say 50 education assistant (EA) jobs have been eliminated, including three specialists in autism speech disorder and four itinerant EAs who provide advice and guidance.

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Nasello says the union is “misrepresenting” those cuts, noting the autism specialists positions were replaced by three general education assistant jobs. He did say some early childhood education positions were lost, but that was based on a reduction in kindergarten enrolment, not funding shortfalls.

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“That might increase again if there are summer registrations and our numbers increase again,” he said.

Shaughnessy said other positions cut include: two social workers, a speech language pathologist, four early childhood educators, two and a half school secretaries’ positions, 11 custodians, an information technician, a general carpenter, and one and a half jobs in the PVNC office.

“The great majority of these jobs are done by frontline workers and all of them contribute to making schools work and ensuring students’ success,” she said.

WATCH: Peterborough high school students protest changes to education

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Peterborough high school students protest changes to education

Nasello acknowledge the loss of the speech language pathologist and carpenter roles but says the other positions were part of an extended $1.6 million collective agreement which expires on Aug. 31, and with it the provincial funding.

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“They all came out of that funding — so of course the funding is gone and the positions are gone,” said Nasello, noting the funding could be renewed.

Shaughnessy also criticized the board’s approach to the layoffs, accusing members of “playing games” that reduced employees’ ability to exercise their seniority.

Nasello says he “totally objects” to the union’s accusation.

“We have followed the timelines and processes of the collective agreement to the letter,” he said. “We have not received one notice of grievance from the union so I don’t know what that’s about.

“Yes, they don’t like what’s happening, yes it’s difficult. But we have absolutely done this openly and following the processes we all agreed to.”

Nasello also said he was disappointed with the union’s claim that students will face a “grim” return to the classroom this fall and face struggles and hardship.

“Absolutely not. We have maintained a focus on ensuring that all of our students — especially the neediest — will have the supports that they have had and require,” said Nasello. “That’s why we have made some other changes because we are maintaining supports for students.

“We aren’t minimizing it. We understand that this has had an impact on people’s lives and our board.”

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***- an earlier version stated teachers would be reassigned. Nasello was speaking of the 55 CUPE positions.