Shifting workloads during class suspensions have prompted the province’s largest school division to announce upwards of 300 temporary layoffs.
The Winnipeg School Division confirmed Tuesday a total of 330 staff members — of its standard school year workforce of 6,000 — have received notices about their employment status.
Starting next month, 279 term educational assistants, infant lab assistants and crossing guards will be out of work, as will 51 bus drivers who are currently employed by the division.
"Extra hours" positions, including breakfast program and bus supervisors, have also been terminated while students study from home. These roles are often filled by educational assistants and the like.
"Our objective has, all along, been to try and find every option to not do any layoffs, and to find meaningful employment for all of our staff," said Radean Carter, spokeswoman for the division, which counts 33,000 students.
Although "meaningful work" has been found for an overwhelming majority of staff, Carter said it wasn’t possible to find enough for all. She emphasized no permanent full-time staff are being affected.
Teachers continue to lesson plan from afar, while other employees have been tasked with everything from contacting students via telephone to supporting the WSD food security initiative to undertaking accounting tasks.
Between the latest layoffs and others already announced by city divisions, almost 900 school workers in Winnipeg have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That doesn’t include announcements made by the Brandon School Division, among others outside the Manitoba capital.
"Term employees, unfortunately, are the first people to go. It’s a crappy situation," said Carla Paul, president of the Winnipeg Association of Non-Teaching Employees, which represents a mix of 1,800 part- and full-time staffers.
"It’s circumstances. I am concerned for those employees because they’re good people, and you don’t want to see people in this kind of situation — but I also have to be concerned for the permanent employees and what is down the road for that."
Paul, who has been encouraging members to access federal benefits, added Tuesday if a "miracle" happens and classes resume before the end of the school year, staffers will be called back to work right away.
The province has asked all publicly-funded entities to review budgets and pinpoint savings where possible. School divisions haven’t been exempt from such a task.
Temporary layoffs, utility savings and bus fuel costs combined, the division expects to save $9.4 million from now until the end of June, if classes don’t resume. That adds up to a 29 per cent savings throughout April, May and June.
"These aren’t savings that would be viable in the long-term, but in the short-term, because of the suspension of classes, we’re able to find these savings," Carter said.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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Updated on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 9:05 AM CDT: Clarifies that no permanent full-time staff are being affected, and that other employees have been tasked with contacting students via telephone, supporting the WSD food security initiative and undertaking accounting tasks