School District 20 – Union balks at sick day remedy

Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union plan to challenge the school districts intentions to curb teachers' sick days from accruing.

A prescription intended to remedy the ailing teacher sick days budget within the school district has drawn an adverse reaction from the local teachers union.

Andy Davidoff of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union (KCTU) said the school district’s decision to institute a number of immediate actions to curb sick days from accruing will be challenged.

Non-enrolling teachers will no longer be covered for sick days, as well as library assistants, youth and child care workers.

The union had consulted a lawyer after district staff — including KCTU and CUPE members — received an April 23 letter from superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach informing them of the new changes, effective immediately.

Davidoff said the letter, obtained by the Trail Daily Times, outlined a change of practice that contravened the unions’ collective agreement to what has been applied in the past and they will be challenging the directive.

He said the letter was offensive, pointing to a recent comment at the April 30 School District No. 20 Kootenay Columbia) public board meeting in Blueberry by one parent, insinuating teachers were using more sick time than they should.

“The public is not aware of individual teacher circumstances and the seriousness of their medical conditions because we cannot discuss that since it is confidential work information,” he said.

“You never know what people are going through. It is very frustrating for me as president of KCTU to hear those insinuations, that somehow teachers are not using their sick time appropriately.”

The KCTU has the fifth oldest average teachers’ age in the province out of 57 districts. But that number does not explain why in the 2011/12 school year over 120 employees — out of 480 staff — have had 10 or more sick days as of the end of April, the letter noted.

Those numbers do not include other types of leave, Luterbach said in his letter, meaning the replacement expenditures for sick leave are projected to be $400,000 over budget by the end of the school year.

That money comes directly out of the SD20 budget, he explained, and has resulted in the cancellation of the purchase of new computers and vehicles for the district, with learning opportunities and resource purchasing plans being “severely” reduced.

“We do not have any other pool of funds to draw upon unless the absence reaches 120 school days for teachers or 120 calendar days for support staff,” Luterbach said in the letter.

As a result, the district has instituted a number of immediate actions intended to curb sick days from accruing. Teachers whose full assignment is non-enrolling (classroom instruction) will not be replaced if they call in sick.

As well, teachers with both enrolling and non-enrolling components will only have a replacement provided for the enrolling parts of their day, while child and youth care workers, full-time childcare workers and library assistants will not be replaced.

“It means nobody services those kids,” said Davidoff.

Clerical staff in a multi-person team will not be replaced for the first three days of a consecutive absence, and custodians will only be replaced for half of their scheduled time.

For the 2011/12 year the district had budgeted around $1.02 million, or $83,000 per month, but is using $110,000 per month. The current budget projected for 2012-13 is $1.22 million for substitute expenditures. Last year the school district budgeted $1.34 million but used $1.36 million, an increase of $477,057 over 2009-10.