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‘Epic demonstration’ if Berkeley cuts go ahead

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Bermuda Public Services Union has vowed “a public demonstration of epic proportions” if the Berkeley Institute's board of governors go ahead with a proposal to cut more than half the school's support staff.

BPSU vice president Jason Hayward said yesterday: “Every parent, teacher and former Berkeleyite should be concerned about the effects that this will have on the education of their children,”

“They've been trimming the fat at Berkeley. Now they're cutting into the meat.”

The board hit back last night, accusing the union of having “its own agenda”. Government, meanwhile, insisted the secondary school would receive no additional funding.

The BPSU refuses to accept the last-minute cuts, proposed earlier this month by the Berkeley board.

The board called for eight out of 15 support staff positions to be axed before the start of school on September 6.

A meeting on Friday between the two sides failed to resolve the dispute.

Mr Hayward said: “What we discussed was that the board had inadequate funding. Both the BPSU and the board agree that it's not sufficient to run the school.”

He claimed the board had told the Ministry of Education its budget cuts were untenable but the complaint had “fallen on deaf ears”.

Board chairman Craig Bridgewater was unavailable for comment yesterday but treasurer Annarita Marion said on his behalf: “It is public knowledge that all schools have been asked to do more with less which means working with a reduced budget allocation.

“I simply wish to confirm that the board of governors of the Berkeley Institute has been in private discussions with the BPSU on a full range of options which include staff reductions, which is a very sensitive area.

“Clearly, the BPSU has its own agenda. Our aim and responsibility is to be respectful of our mandate from the Ministry of Education without compromising on the delivery of education that meets the needs of all of our students.”

Figures provided by the BPSU show Berkeley's maintenance funds dropping by $1.4 million, from $5.34 million for the year ending January 2011.

The previous year's fund was $5.36 million and $6.174 million was allocated for the year ending January 2009.

Roughly $3 million has been cut in total.

Explaining the figures, Mr Bridgewater previously confirmed that $1.4 million was to be taken off the school's capitation grant.

The capitation grant covers the cost of running the school, he said, including maintenance, cleaning, electricity, secretarial and telephone costs. The rest of Berkeley's cuts have been taken from faculty salaries.

Even if Berkeley loses another eight staff positions, Mr Hayward said, “they will still be in deficit”.

“The board have informed the Minister of Education of the issues they were having with their budget allocation. To my knowledge, they have fallen on deaf ears.”

Mr Hayward said the union would request a meeting with Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith and Premier Paula Cox and would organise protests if the situation could not be resolved.

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Education, permanent secretary Warren Jones yesterday hit back at “irresponsible and inaccurate comments” made by Mr Hayward.

“It is no secret that the budget of the Ministry of Education was cut some ten percent effective April 1, 2011,” Mr Jones said.

“This cut has had ramifications across the education system, with all schools, including the Berkeley Institute, having to make adjustments to meet the needs of students. In a meeting with the BPSU last week, I informed the members present of the reality of our budget allocation and that our schools are seeking to work within that allocation.”

Staff cuts were announced in June, he said.

Mr Jones insisted that “where students have a need, that need will be met”.

He added: “I can assure the public that the Ministry is well aware of the budgetary situation and that there will certainly be no school closures as a result of any budgetary shortfall.”

Cuts in teaching staff were made in accordance with a deadline agreed by the Bermuda Union of Teachers. However, the BPSU says that cuts proposed by Berkeley's board break a collective bargaining agreement, which requires 90 days notice.

BPSU organiser Golinda Fox said the union “would like parents to take action over their children's education”.

“Teachers have been cut and now they're cutting support staff,” she said. “How do they expect the school to function?”

Useful websites: www.berkeley.bm, www.bpsu.bm, www.gov.bm.

Budget cuts: The BPSU has warned there will be a demonstration of epic proportions if proposed staff cuts go ahead at Berkeley Institute.

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Published August 23, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 23, 2011 at 9:27 am)

‘Epic demonstration’ if Berkeley cuts go ahead

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