Price of averting school strike in South Okanagan unknown

Administrators still tallying cost of new deal with support staff in the Okanagan Skaha School District

CUPE support staff at a previous day of action on the Lower Mainland. A tentative new deal would buy two years of labour peace.

CUPE support staff at a previous day of action on the Lower Mainland. A tentative new deal would buy two years of labour peace.

It’s still unclear how much a new deal with support staff will cost the Okanagan Skaha School District.

On Wednesday night, the Canadian Union of Public Employees announced it had agreed to a two-year “framework agreement” with the B.C. government.

The deal, which runs through June 2014 and includes a total pay increase of 3.5 per cent, must still be ratified by 27,000 union members like janitors and educational assistants, who threatened to strike as early as next week if an agreement couldn’t be reached.

A representative for CUPE Local 523, which covers the Okanagan, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

B.C Education Minister Peter Fassbender said in a statement that school districts “will need to develop savings plans to pay for the agreement.”

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said via email she was unable to provide an estimate of the proposed deal’s budgetary impact.

“As the information has just been received by the district it will take some time to determine the actual cost,” she said.

School districts were asked this summer to draft savings plans to fund possible wage increases, but Hyer said that was for “one possible scenario regarding a settlement,” and the tentative deal “is different than initially discussed so we will have to cost it out.”

The district’s 2013-14 budget estimated salaries for supports staff and educational assistants at $7.6 million. A 3.5 per cent increase to that amount would equal about $265,000.

With support staff now under contract, the B.C. government can turn its attention to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, with which it’s seeking a 10-year deal. Teachers’ last contract, a two-year pact, expired at the end of June.