The union that represents non-teaching staff at schools across the region has accused Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) of neglecting its students’ needs following a recent decision to lay off or reduce the hours of 77 educational assistants, (EAs) custodians and office staff board-wide.

Bill Campbell, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 997, confronted TLDSB trustees and administration at a June 14 board meeting, expressing his disgust at the decision.

“The supports these 77 employees provide to the students and schools in the system are critical to the success, safety and well-being of students and other staff,” Campbell said.

TLDSB has yet to publicly acknowledge the layoffs. Schools across Haliburton County will be impacted, with Campbell confirming Archie Stouffer Elementary School (ASES) and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) will lose three permanent EA positions in September. Cardiff Elementary School will also lose a permanent EA position.

Three custodians have also been served layoff notices, impacting staffing levels at ASES, Stuart Baker Elementary School and J.D. Hodgson Elementary School.

Campbell said the cuts affect roughly 10 per cent of CUPE-represented educational workers employed by TLDSB. He questioned why the board deems the cuts necessary given TLDSB reported a $2.7 million budget surplus last year, and a top concern recently outlined by the Elementary Teachers Federation is the lack of EA support in the classroom for teachers.

“The money is there,” Campbell said, also referencing several government-funded grants available to the board to support staffing levels. “The government is funding many programs to offer students the chance to regain the valuable learning lost during the pandemic… COVID shutdowns and online learning have created a learning deficit that needs to be overcome… We need our EAs now more than ever.”

Campbell expressed concern too over the board’s decision to lay off 28 custodial staff. He said, on average, CUPE-represented custodians have clocked between 40 and 80 hours of overtime this year and that with significantly fewer staff on hand come September, it will be impossible to maintain existing cleaning standards.

He said this was the fourth time since 2015 that custodial staff had been through a mass layoff at TLDSB.

“What will happen next year with fewer custodians in the schools… Custodians are a dedicated employee group that take great pride in their work, but there’s only so much they can do without the support of this school board,” Campbell said. “If the layoffs stand, make no mistake, the schools will not be as clean or as safe going forward.”

Campbell also condemned the board’s decision to close the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre, based just north of Huntsville, saying it has provided a “unique learning experience for generations of students” for the past 40 years.

In a final plea to the board, Campbell asked that they reconsider the layoffs and spend the money that’s needed to support students and teachers.

“We want to remind the board that in order to be successful in your stated goals, all students must be supported in their learning. Classrooms must be safe and welcoming environments for all. Student and staff mental well-being must be considered in every decision this board makes,” Campbell said. “These cuts are unacceptable… This is a failure on the part of TLDSB.”

Trustees did not provide a response following Campbell’s delegation and remained silent when TLDSB board chair Bruce Reain asked if there were any questions or comments.