The Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board has sent layoff notices to more than two dozen employees, according to their union.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 5050 said 23 teaching assistants are out of work. The assistants help students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and learning problems, according to the school board's website.
Along with the 23 teaching assistants, two secretaries, two supervisor cleaners and one cleaner all face layoffs. A bus driver and an inventory clerk position are also being lost through attrition.
"Our teachers assistants, they're maxed to the limit now," said Mary Jessome, president of Local 5050. "Our workload is growing and growing everyday and now if you want little Johnny to have that extra support, maybe it's just not going to be there. I mean, there's only so much anybody can do."
Nothing finalized, says board
The school board said it can't discuss any possible cuts because its budget is in the draft stage. It can't be finalized until after the provincial election and the approval of a provincial budget, said the board.
A spokesperson for the board said it is possible some workers will get a call back to work before September, but those details haven't been worked out.
The school board has seen a massive decline in enrolment in recent years.
Last week the Nova Scotia Teachers Union spoke out against other proposed cuts. Those include 3.5 elementary art teacher positions, two school psychologists, two guidance counsellors, one social worker, one literacy consultant and one speech language pathologist.
Sixteen classroom teacher positions could also be lost through attrition.
CUPE devastated by cuts
CUPE Local 5050 represents the teaching assistants, secretaries and cleaners facing layoffs. It represents about 1,100 school board employees.
Jessome said she and her members were devastated by the board's decision.
She said the funding model for schools ties education dollars to the number of students in schools, but that doesn't work in a place like Cape Breton, where people are constantly moving away.
"There's not proper funding for the school boards to put the supports in that are required," she said. "If we continue to lose students every year, then we're not getting the funding to sustain what needs to be sustained."
She asked concerned people to contact their MLAs and ask them to change the funding for school boards.
The provincial government created a committee in February to study inclusion in classrooms through Bill 75, which imposed a contract on teachers. The union said that bill includes a clause that no board can change its inclusion policy until that committee makes a report.
The Education Department disputes that claim. A spokesperson said the department is not aware of any changes to the board's inclusion policies, so it is not violating the clause in Bill 75. Heather Fairbairn said the school board has the authority to decide what staffing it needs.
It believes these layoffs go against that clause. Jessome said the union is also angered that these layoffs come when the board recently decided to increase its own members' wages.