By Lethbridge Herald on April 3, 2020.
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division and Lethbridge School Division will be laying off all “non-essential” personnel in response to a massive $120-million cut to education funding imposed by the province last Saturday as schools remain closed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Positions being laid off include all educational assistants, child- and youth-care workers, library staff and receptionists. The public school board will also be laying off career counsellors and First Nations, Metis and Inuit liaisons. Lethbridge School Division did not have a final number as of Friday as to how many workers the layoffs would affect. Holy Spirit said it will be laying off 181 staff members. The layoffs for both school divisions will be completed no later than April 30.
Clark Bosch, board chair for the Lethbridge School Division, said the provincial cuts announced last Saturday caught school boards across the province by surprise.
“Because the government came out and originally said they were going to maintain our funding back in the middle March, and then came out and reduced our funding last Saturday, it was kind of a surprise,” confirmed Bosch. “But I am also not really surprised by it because we are in a pandemic, and we’re trying to pull together to overcome what’s facing us.”
Holy Spirit board chair Judy Lane agreed the announcement was poorly handled by the province.
“It was a surprise and shock to all of us, and the biggest faux pas is the fact that it was out on social media before anyone else knew,” she said. “So somebody leaked it apparently.”
Lane said at the end of the day, even though ministry officials have apologized for the error, it does not change the fact nearly 200 workers in her division will be without their regular paycheques by next month.
“All our staff are considered important and essential,” said Lane. “So it is kind of difficult to accept that we are zeroing in on one particular group, that being ‘non-essential’ staff, and during a particularly hard time with this virus.”
Bosch echoed Lane’s comments.
“My heart goes out to everyone affected by it,” he said. “They are facing financial stress and uncertainty, and that’s a lot of strain on some very important people. We had a teleconference on Monday where we were talking about ‘non-essential’ staff. I think it is important for our staff to know that is language for a pandemic and has nothing to do with what we believe our staff are. We don’t have any staff that are non-essential.”
Lane said employee pension funds will continue to be paid into and their benefits will continue even amidst the layoffs. She hoped all affected staff would be recalled sooner rather than later. In the meantime, Lane wanted to encourage staff to seek out counselling and support from their peers as needed, and to maintain their faith.
“In this troubled world, we can pray. And in our Catholic schools, that’s what we do. I know there are teachers looking at kids on a laptop or computer screen and they are praying. That’s what I encourage all of us to do.”
Bosch said no one is happy to have to make these kinds of difficult decisions in such troubled times.
“It’s difficult, but the times are difficult right now,” he said. “We have got to work together. The government is being faced with a health challenge, an economic challenge, and it’s crisis time. We have got a lot of things going on in this province, and that’s why we have leadership.
“I guess that’s why we have to have trust in that leadership.”
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