Surrey school trustees say the provincial government is forcing the school district to participate in a money-saving measure that not only won’t save Surrey dollars, but may add costs in the long run.
The issue lies with the sharing of services between B.C. school districts – an initiative of Bill 11, the Education Statutes Amendment Act passed earlier this year.
The idea is to reduce overhead in individual districts by sharing costs for services such as technology, transportation or legal services.
Trustee Terry Allen, who’s a representative on BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association), said Surrey recently learned it will be mandatory for the district to share labour relations and employee liability services.
“We have a huge labour relations department that deals with all our grievances and staff concerns. At the end of the day, the Surrey School District will continue to do business as usual. But now we’re going to have to pay to be in the shared services.”
Allen said the government has indicated sharing labour relations services between districts will save about $1 to $2 million annually for the province.
While sharing such services can benefit smaller school districts that have limited staff and resources, Allen says there’s no advantage for Surrey.
“We’ve worked hard to become an efficient labour relations department and we’ve saved millions.”
The government has said the first year of sharing labour relations services will likely be free for school districts, but it’s unclear how much each school district will have to pay after that.
Allen fears that if it’s like other costs, it’ll be based on enrolment. And if that’s true, as the largest school district in B.C., Surrey’s tab would be the highest.
When Bill 11 was introduced, many school boards voiced concerns about the legislation, saying it eroded their rights as elected officials. Those concerns linger.
“We have no problem with shared services, but boards should have a choice,” said Allen. “I’m elected to decide what we will and will not spend money on. Basically, we’re being pushed into something.”
Last spring, the education minister of the day, Peter Fassbender, assured boards would maintain “considerable autonomy” but made it clear all districts needed to participate in “finding efficiencies.”
Surrey has requested to meet with the CEO of BCPSEA, the body implementing shared service agreements, as well as the executive director of the Service Delivery Branch.
The B.C. Ministry of Education did not return The Leader’s phone calls requesting comment.