School integration aides fear job uncertainty

Budget allocation for special needs children remains unclear

By Robert Frank

Dozens of the approximately 400 integration aides who work for Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) are uncertain whether they will still have jobs when school recommences at the end of August.

“Many aides were told that they will have zero hours before they walked out [on the last day of the school year],” Independent Association of Support Staff president Luce Pattison remarked during a meeting of school board commissioners, June 25.

“It was highly unusual for so many schools not to have given hours on the last day of school,” to have to wait. The board is very slow in releasing funds, this year in particular.”

During the council meeting LBPSB director general Robert Mills was receptive to learning more about the integration aides’ plight. In a follow-up interview, July 8, Pattison told The Suburban that during the week following her intervention, many “though not necessarily everyone” of the integration aides at the zero-based schools subsequently received confirmation of their work hours for the coming school year.

“It’s an individual school-based decision,” explained LBPSB assistant director-general Steve Balleine. “When they get the resources from the central committee, they decide as a school.”

LBPSB introduced the support workers to the classroom after it implemented a policy, more than a decade ago, of including children with special needs in regular classrooms. The move was highly unpopular with the teachers’ union at the time.

LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day told The Suburban in an interview that the school board faces the same placement problem every year. She said it must await Quebec government allocations for students with special needs before confirming integration aide numbers.

“It isn’t the way it should be,” she acknowledged. “We can’t assign them in May or June because we have to wait and see what the actual numbers and amount of teachers will be. So while teachers know they will be back, administration staff know they will be back, even the school secretary and maintenance staff know they will be back, integration aides have to wait, because of funding.”

Day said that she anticipates most integration aides will be rehired, but that nothing can be confirmed until the end of August.

“These are wonderful, dedicated, huge-hearted people,” she observed. “I don’t know how we would manage without them. But we can’t guarantee that every one will be placed, which makes them very anxious.”

“Virtually every school board in Quebec—French and English—is reporting the same problem,” Day concluded. “Every board is supplementing its allocation for special needs children by anywhere from 80-120 percent. It would help if each board could tailor the allocation to their individual needs.”

“As we lose students and lose critical mass and budget, it becomes harder. That’s regrettable, because we should be able to help every student the way we need to.”

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