Berkeley staff cuts were inescapable BPSU, board
Despite a union vow to go down fighting, staff cuts at the Berkeley Institute were an inescapable consequence of budget cuts, according to both sides in the dispute.
Eight Bermudian support staff positions were terminated following mediations between the Bermuda Public Services Union and Berkeley’s school board.
This came in spite of the BPSU’s initial threat of “epic” public demonstrations if the Board of Governors proceeded with cuts.
However, union general secretary Ed Ball said: “We take direction from our members, and I have to give kudos to the persons being made redundant, because they did not want to see their colleagues lose any funds as well.”
Mediation closed on September 23 with the school eliminating eight out of a total of 21 posts. The support department includes maintenance, custodial and secretarial staff.
Berkeley’s business manager Demond Greyson conceded that the cut had been “challenging, and still remains challenging”.
“We are coping,” he said. “There is a finer margin of error than before. If someone is out sick, it’s more disruptive.”
Staff were told their jobs were to be axed shortly before the start of the current school year. According to Mr Greyson, the workers were given a month’s salary in lieu of notice.
Acknowledging that the mediation has been “a bit of an adversarial process”, Mr Greyson said: “I think at the end of the day the union understood that the changes were a direct reflection of the financial constraints placed on the board.”
Sources on either side expressed trepidation at the Budget in the coming year.
“It would be extremely challenging to take more cuts,” Mr Greyson said. “We have made cuts or economised over the last two years.”
The school’s Board of Governors said they had not been officially told of any further reductions to their grant.
The statement added: “We would hope that consideration will be given to the efficiencies we have realised over the last few years.”
Asked how the school would absorb further cuts, Board treasurer Annarita Marion said: “We are not looking forward to that if that should happen.
“As I said, this was not an easy situation. The school has been making cuts for years, and I hope this is taken into account, should there be another round of discussion.”
Berkeley’s board said the 21 percent cuts to its operating budget were “certainly greater than any of us could have anticipated, but it did present the entire Berkeley family with an opportunity to more fully examine all our programmes and the resources that were previously available to us”.
One outcome has been “a much closer collaboration between parents, teachers and support staff”.
Mr Ball commended Berkeley for making “a very generous offer” to the outgoing staff at the close of mediation.
However, he added: “The definition of redundancy means that the post goes, not just the job. When the post goes, the duties go. Unfortunately, what’s been happening is they want people to go and the duties to remain.”
He said Bermuda College had been creative in avoiding job cuts, and called on other institutions to “think outside the box”.
Meanwhile, of the now-redundant Berkeley staff, Mr Ball said: “Some have been out there trying to find other employment. I know of one or two who have been successful. The others are still looking.”
A total of 96 positions had been chopped from the Island’s public school system by the start of the school year, following a $12 million cut dealt to the Ministry of Education’s budget last February.