Waterloo's Catholic school board cuts 20 jobs

Twenty full-time workers are losing their jobs as Waterloo Region’s cash-strapped Catholic school board cuts costs, and others are seeing reduced hours.

In total, the equivalent of 23.5 full-time jobs are gone. In all, 44 full- and part-time workers are affected by the cost-cutting.

Local 302 of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, which represents maintenance workers and custodians at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, was hit with 14 layoffs and a reduction in hours for 10 workers.

Six members of Local 2512 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents more than 900 Catholic board support staff, got layoff notices on Friday.

A production technician with 40 years seniority and a media technician with 23 years were among them. So was a human resources file clerk. And three lunch-hour supervisors at St. Mary’s high school in Kitchener have also been declared redundant.

“What is a high school going to do without three lunch-hour supervisors?” Betty-Lou Warmington, president of Local 2512, said Monday.

“Who’s going to supervise those kids? Seriously. Are we going to ask the teachers to all of a sudden start monitoring the hall? That’s not going to happen.”

Warmington said two of the CUPE layoffs took effect last Friday, when layoffs notices were delivered. Two more are effective on Dec. 16 and another two in January.

She said she was shocked to be notified of the looming layoffs last Thursday.

“I just don’t understand how these jobs are not needed anymore,” she said.

“Are the supervisors going to have their hours reduced?”

The school board says 3.5 vice-principal positions that were vacant will not be filled.

“It’s sad,” John Shewchuk, the board’s chief managing officer, said Monday.

“I’ve been here 11 years. It was the saddest day I’ve experienced in this organization. The timing is awful, happening at this time of year. But you’re left with no choice.”

Shewchuk said the layoffs are designed to save the school board $1.5 million.

The board is struggling to balance a $228-million budget for 2011-12 after the number of new students enrolled for the school year came in 252 lower than expected.

The province provides about $10,000 in annual funding for each new student entering school, so the board is out $2.52-million it had counted on.

About $2 million has been cut from other non-staff budgets, the board says.

Staff salaries and benefits make up 85 per cent of the board’s budget.

“You get to the point where that’s the only place you have to go,” Shewchuk said of the staff reductions.

The board blames the sudden decline in enrolment on changing economic conditions.

The decline of local manufacturing jobs may be pushing low-skilled workers and their families out of the region. As well, high-tech industry attracts highly educated workers, many of whom are from Asia. Therefore, new migrants to the region are more likely to be from countries that are not predominantly Catholic.

As well, the recent addition of new public schools means fewer students coming out of the public elementary system are switching to Catholic high schools, the Catholic board says.

This year, the Catholic school board will spend $2 million more on special education than it gets in funding from the province, Shewchuk said. Also, utility costs rose sharply this year at the board.

A team of senior staff and school board trustees will pick apart all board operations, looking to save money and improve efficiency in the future. Another team will address the Catholic board’s problems of student retention and recruitment.

Meanwhile, the region’s public board is among a small number of Ontario school boards with increasing enrolment — up by 718 this year — and has no plans for layoffs, spokesperson Abigail Dancey said Monday.

Source: The Record