Support staff at schools attended a paid union meeting to discuss their thoughts on the government’s freeze of the operational grant which has complicated collective agreement negotiations between NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Ministry of Education.
NZEI Te Riu Roa the Union for those working in the education sector is advocating for better funding, which support staff who attended the meeting say is the key issue.
On Wednesday 15 March, two meetings were held in Franklin, the first at St Joseph’s School in Pukekohe and the other at View Road School, Waiuku.
These meetings began a month of meetings which will be taking place throughout New Zealand to petition for better funding for support staff.
Natalie Hartwell, a teacher-aide from Parkside School, who is also the secretary for the NZEI Franklin branch says support staff is a broad term.
“It’s not limited to teacher-aides, but includes librarians, admin staff, technicians, anyone who helps to make school run smoothly.”
She says the reason for the meetings is because support staff need better funding. The lack of funding has cost support staff hours, wages and for some, their jobs. It also affects the students.
“The kids need our support, they don’t get help if we’re not there,” Natalie says.
In May 2016, the government froze the operations grant, during the release of the new budget. It was the first time in nearly two decades that any government has frozen the grant. As a result, schools are operating with a cut of 2.3%.
The operations grant pays support staff wages and also covers the cost of running a school, with things such as heating classrooms, buying computers, and wages for relief teachers.
“The government needs to recognise, our role in kids’ learning,” Natalie says. “Our job is very important. We’re here to guide. If we’re not here there’s no stability.”
Heather Holmes, NZEI field officer says support staff are the backbone of the school. “They would not function as smoothly without you,” she says.
More meetings will be held throughout March. NZEI encourage people to get involved to provoke change. A petition for more funding for support staff and a pay rise of 2%, has been created and can be viewed at www.together.org.nz/kids_education
A number of union support staff from Franklin schools attended the union meeting.