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BUT launches fresh tirade against Government

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Seeking accountability: Dante Cooper, the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, is calling for an overhaul of the leadership in the Department of Education (Photograph supplied)

The teachers’ union has renewed calls for an overhaul of the leadership at the Department of Education claiming its members are enduring “financial disruption” as a result of delayed payment and non-payment of wages.

The Bermuda Union of Teachers also claims there are teacher shortages with staff working flat out to cover classes beyond what is agreed in their collective bargaining agreements, lack of wi-fi in schools and a Commissioner of Education [Kalmar Richards] who the union claims leads with an “autocratic style”.

Dante Cooper, the BUT’s general secretary, told The Royal Gazette: “There is absolutely no excuse for employees of a Bermuda Government department to go without pay for several months.

“No excuse for any Bermudian employer to withhold pay that is owed to the point that an employee has their power turned off because they were not able to pay Belco in time.

“No excuse for employees becoming delinquent in their rent payments due to money that they have worked for and earned months ago not being paid to them. This is entirely un-Bermudian, and it is, frankly, embarrassing.

“Yet it continues to happen, with no remorse, no alternative support, and with an air of ‘You’re lucky to even have a job’ attached — it’s not acceptable.

“People are showing up to work, fulfilling increasingly exhausting duties, and not being paid on time to pay their monthly bills. It’s actually quite a shocking situation and it must be rectified.

“This month, despite previous assurances of weekly payments, substitute teachers were informed last week, before the recent hacking incident, that they won't receive payment until October 6. This financial disruption impacts their livelihoods.”

Mr Cooper made clear that the delays and non-payment affects mostly substitute teachers but also include teachers in substantive roles.

Earlier this month, the union put out a statement expressing "grave concerns“ over public schools facing delays in the new academic year.

It called for “a thorough and immediate assessment of leadership in the public education system” and reiterated two previous votes of no confidence in Ms Richards.

Under fire: the Bermuda Union of Teachers has cast two votes of no confidence in Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, responded at the time saying he was proud of the work undertaken as part of the Government’s education reform plans which include the phasing out of middle schools, the introduction of signature and alternative learning schools, and the closure of eight primary schools.

Mr Rabain said it was important to note the reform of the primary schools has been “a mammoth task” and that Department of Education back-to-school protocols would be assessed with changes supported by the ministry.

In its latest tirade, the union said that teacher shortages are “untenable“.

Mr Cooper added: “There is equally no excuse for teachers — who have full schedules — to arrive at school daily and be asked to cover classes for courses that do not have teachers.

“This situation is untenable, and flies in the face of our collective bargaining agreement — a document that the DoE adheres to strictly when it suits them, but ignores entirely when a teacher is needed to cover a duty that will put them well beyond the CBA mandated contact hours during the school week.”

He said Mr Rabain wants to “throw teachers under the bus” by stating that school laptops were not submitted for updating over the summer which contributed to the system being unprepared to begin in September.

Mr Cooper said: “This is inappropriate as there are numerous other concerns that the DoE needs to address, including missing contracts, delayed and inaccurate payments, and a shortage of teachers.

“However, while discussing IT, many schools still lack wi-fi access yet teachers are still expected to deliver a curriculum that depends on internet access. Of course, if we don’t perform miracles, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

Mr Cooper said while Mr Rabain openly called for collaboration to improve the public education system, he claimed Ms Richards seldom responds to emails in relation to system issues, missing contracts, unpaid salaries and other issues.

He added: “This lack of responsiveness predates the recent hacking incident. Also, the CoE is refusing to host a combined consultative meeting, which brings all stakeholders together in education, and has refused since she was appointed to the post. This speaks to her autocratic style and flat-out refusal to collaborate with partners.”

He claimed Ms Richards posed “significant“ challenges to education reform due to a decision to reduce substitute teacher availability and a refusal to allow substitutes to cover for teachers attending professional development sessions aimed at transforming the system.

He concluded: “We want, we need, we deserve accountability and our questions will continue until an adequate answer is given.”

The Department of Education did not respond to questions by press time.

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Published September 28, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated September 28, 2023 at 7:44 am)

BUT launches fresh tirade against Government

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