Berkeley support staff to lose jobs - union
The Berkeley Institute has proposed cutting more than half its support staff before the coming school year, the Bermuda Public Services Union claims.
Union representatives say they were surprised to learn that eight positions would be axed within one week, at an August 11 meeting with the school's board of governors.
According to BPSU vice President Jason Hayward, the planned cuts come from a pool of 15 custodial, maintenance, secretarial and library staff. “The board said they wanted to make these cuts prior to the school year starting, but then the school year may never start,” Mr Hayward said.
All the support staff are Bermudian, he added. The positions are administrative rather than teaching, and no specific jobs were named to be cut.
The union was able to receive another week's grace to negotiate the issue, and hopes to meet with the board within the coming days. Mr Hayward said the shock announcement came during a routine meeting between the union and the school's board of governors.
“We just got a number of eight,” he said. “When we meet back with the board we hope to have a different idea of who and what positions they want to get rid of.”
The union felt “sideswiped and hoodwinked” by the announcement, Mr Hayward said.
He added that under its collective bargaining agreement with the board, such redundancies required 90 days' written notice.
School staff were said to be upset at the sudden notice.
“People felt betrayed, like they had spent their time getting the Berkeley Institute ready for the school year only to be made redundant,” Mr Hayward said. “This is the first such issue that we've had with the Berkeley Institute, and we feel that it's being handled very unprofessionally.”
Asked if he felt a strike could be called, Mr Hayward said: “We will be directed by our members.”
Board of Governors Chairman Craig Bridgewater said he was unable to comment as meetings with the union were confidential. Cuts have been made throughout the Island's public school system after the Ministry of Education had its budget cut by ten percent.
Berkeley, which has roughly 500 students, saw its funding drop 22 percent, or just below $3 million from $13.48 million to $10.49 million for the present fiscal year.
A series of cuts eliminating 20 different posts at the school was announced by Education Minister Jennifer Smith in June.
Asked how Berkeley could avoid redundancies after losing more than one-fifth of its funding, Mr Hayward said the BPSU wanted to see the school's accounts to discuss other measures, or “creative ways”, of keeping staff employed.
“I can openly say that for the organisations who have shown the BPSU their books, we have been able to find those creative ways.”
However, he added: “To have 50 percent of a workforce cut is huge. If we are trying to reform education, there have to be other ways.”
Permanent Secretary of Education Warren Jones said: “It is common knowledge that the budget of the Education Ministry was reduced by some ten percent effective April 1 2011. Resultantly, there has been a reduction of funding throughout the education system. The Berkeley Institute, as an aided school, receives a grant which assists them in the operation of the school and covers the salaries of school support staff. The Berkeley board is responsible for the terms of employment for support staff.”
In a statement today the Board of Governors of The Berkeley Institute confirmed that it "continues to actively consider cost cutting measures to achieve greater savings in accordance with its reduced operating budget for fiscal year 2011/12. All should be reminded that the school's operating (capitation) budget allocation was cut by approximately 22% which translates to $1.4m".
Chairman of the Board, Craig Bridgewater said: "It is important to note that in accordance with our discussions with the Bermuda Public Services Union (BPSU) that a number of measures are being considered and that no final decisions have been made. Our primary objective is to ensure the delivery of the highest standard of education for our student body and we will not compromise or cut corners in this area."
Mr Bridgewater continued: "I take this opportunity to express my disappointment with the fact that the BPSU saw fit to make the details of our private and confidential consultation public. Any discussion that might alter the working conditions of our staff is a sensitive matter which requires much deliberation and the actions of the BPSU at this time are unfortunate."
The Board of Governors is expected to make a final decision with respect to additional cost cutting measures prior to the beginning of the next school year.