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Support Staff Endorse Claims, Seek Funding System

Media Release April 21, 2005
From NZEI Te Riu Roa For Immediate Use
Ms05/11

SUPPORT STAFF ENDORSE CLAIMS AND CALL FOR NEW FUNDING SYSTEM

More than 5000 school support staff have endorsed a claim for a 6% pay rise and called for a fairer and more effective way of funding their jobs.

The 6% pay claim is part of a package that their union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, will present to the Ministry of Education next month, with negotiations for new support staff collective agreements due to begin in August.

Support staff work in 2600 primary and secondary schools as teacher aides, special education assistants, school secretaries, executive officers, librarians, science and IT technicians, physiotherapists, nurses, sports co-ordinators and in more than 80 other jobs.

They endorsed the claims package and launched a campaign for a fairer and more effective way of funding their jobs at 126 meetings held through the country from March 30 to April 15.

“The meetings were a great success,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

“Five and a half thousand support staff attended the meetings. They endorsed the claims package and made it clear they’ll stand behind the claims when their negotiations start in August.”

“The support staff also made it clear that the current system of bulk funding their jobs from each school’s operations grant does not work and that a new system is desperately needed.”

“They’ve had enough of their low pay rates, which start at just $11.49 an hour, and having their hours cut because their schools struggle to find the money to pay them.”

“That’s why they launched a petition at the claims meetings calling on the Government to establish a Ministerial Working Party to develop a fairer and more effective way of funding their jobs.”

Currently support staff are bulk funded from each school’s operation’s grant. This is the same pool of money principals and boards use to pay maintenance costs and buy all the equipment and resources that a school needs. School managers find it almost impossible to pay their running costs and their support staff from the same fund. As a result support staff are low paid and live with the on-going threat of their job being axed, or their pay being cut, because their hours have been reduced to enable their managers to pay the school’s bills or buy equipment.

“Support staff have had enough of having their jobs bulk funded and they are not alone.”

“As a principal I know how hard it is to juggle support staff wages with all the other items that have to be funded from a school’s ops grant.”

“This creates a great deal of stress for principals and school boards and is unsettling for students, because cuts to support staff hours can mean cuts to their education programmes.”

“It’s clear that current bulk funding system is failing everyone. Support staff, principals, school boards, teachers and most importantly the children in our schools.”

“Everyone will benefit from having a fairer and more effective funding system,” says Colin Tarr.

A fact sheet with more information on the support staff follows.

School Support Staff Funding – The Case for Change

Support staff - who are they?

New Zealand has around 2600 primary and secondary schools. They rely on their support staff to carry out essential administrative work, to ensure schools are clean and well maintained and to ensure every child at every school receives a quality education.

There are more than 80 different support staff jobs covering three main areas.
- Administration: Includes receptionists, word processor operators, school secretaries, executive officers, financial administrators,
- Specialists: Includes librarians, ICT and science technicians, nurses, physiotherapists, signers for deaf students, sports co-ordinators, teacher aides who help students with severe disabilities.
These support staff are represented by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI)
- Cleaning and Maintenance: Includes cleaners and caretakers.
They are represented by the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU)

The list of support jobs continues to grow as schools meet the expanding educational demands of the 21st century.

The problem

Despite the essential work they do school support staff are one of the most vulnerable workforces in the country. They have little job security because their jobs are bulk funded from a school’s operations grant. This has been the case since 1990, when the Tomorrow’s Schools structure was introduced.

The ops grant is a sum of money provided by the Ministry of Education that’s used to cover a school’s running costs, from paying the power bill to buying computers. In addition it’s used to pay support staff.

All principals and boards know how hard it is stretching their ops grant to cover running costs and support staff salaries.

Inevitably they end up having to chose between the two and sadly it’s the support staff who usually lose. But they’re not the only ones who lose. All school staff and students are affected by the bulk funding system.
- Support staff see their jobs disappear or have their hours cut because their salaries have had to be diverted elsewhere.
- Principals and board members are forced to chose between their support staff and balancing the budget.
- Teachers and students are affected when cuts to support staff jobs or hours result in cuts to education programmes.

NZEI and the SFWU spend a lot of time dealing with the problems caused by support staff bulk funding.

Two of the most common are, support staff being graded at a lower level than they should be, and therefore being paid less than should be. And support staff not getting annual pay rises they should receive under the terms of their collective employment agreement.

In the last 18 months NZEI has recovered more than $1 million in underpaid wages for support staff, who were wrongly graded or missed out on pay rises. The union estimates that support staff are owed at least $12 million because of the underpayment problems.

Many support staff also miss out on the pay increases NZEI and SFWU negotiates when their collective agreements are renewed. This is because their hours are often cut by the amount of the increase because there is no money in the ops grant to pay them the increase.

Bulk Funding Of School Staff Has Passed It’s Used By Date

The system has been in place for 15 years and no longer works effectively because many of the jobs that support staff do did not exist 15 years ago. The ones that did have expanded into a much bigger jobs
- school secretaries are now more likely to be office managers with responsibility for a school’s finances and day to day management.
- Teacher aides now play a far greater role in educating students, particularly those with special needs such as behavioural problems.
- There has been a huge increase in the use of computers in schools with a corresponding increase in the need for IT specialists.
- NCEA has increased support staff workload. Schools are relying on librarians to do research to prepare their internal assessment papers. On science techs to prepare experiments for assessments. And on admin staff to carry out data entry of the assessment results.
- The curriculum in schools continues to expand creating a constant demand for support staff with the skills and knowledge to deliver the new curriculum initiatives.

No wonder the formula devised 15 years ago, to determine the amount of money that goes into an ops grant to pay for support staff, is now hopelessly out of date. The Government has provided extra money for ops grants to cover inflation but nothing has been done to cover the changes listed above.

As a result research by NZEI shows that more than 40% of schools have to do their own fund raising to employ the number and type of support staff they require to meet the needs of their students. This is not good enough. Support staff, principals, teachers, students and their parents deserve a better system for funding support staff jobs.

The NZEI research involved 250 schools and found that 80% wanted a change in the way support staff jobs are funded. The union spent 12 months talking to support staff, principals and teachers in those schools and has used that research to develop an alternative funding system.

This involves the Government providing guaranteed funding for core support staff work. This would mean most support staff being paid directly by the Ministry of Education, in the same way as teachers.

If a school required additional support staff, they could be funded from the ops grant. This would enable individual schools to employ any additional specialised staff they required to meet the needs of their particular students. A separate but parallel system would be developed to cover support staff funded by Group Special Education (GSE) which has responsibility for educating special needs students.

The Solution To The Support Staff Funding Crisis

NZEI and the SFWU are calling on the Minister of Education to set up a Ministerial Working Party to address the issue. This would include NZEI and the Education Ministry, which includes GSE. The Working Party would investigate problems of the current system and use NZEI’s alternative model to develop a better funding system that would work in the interests of all school staff and students.

ENDS

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