Saanich students returning to school Monday after support staff ratify deal with district

Thousands of students in the Saanich School District are heading back to class Monday after the union representing more than 500 support staff workers ratified the deal it reached with the district over the weekend.

The tentative deal was reached on Saturday. Union members ratified it on Sunday.

Support staff have been on strike since Oct. 28. Unionized teachers refused to cross picket lines, so about 7,000 students have not been going to class for about three weeks.

"This has been a very exciting day for us," said school superintendent Dave Eberwein after the tentative deal was reached on Saturday. "It's been a long three weeks."

The CUPE Local 441 members — who include educational assistants, custodians and bus drivers — have been demanding wage parity, claiming their pay is significantly lower than neighbouring school districts like Greater Victoria. 

Union president Dean Coates said the union is happy to have reached the tentative agreement.

"I'm very proud of the work we did on this tentative agreement," Coates said on Saturday. "I'm very proud to recommend acceptance to our membership."

Coates wouldn't provide any details on the terms of the agreement, but said the union agreed to take down picket lines on Saturday as a show of good faith. 

Making up for lost time

Dave Eberwein, the superintendent of the district, says there will be some scheduling changes to make up for the three weeks of lost classes for students. 

For example, a previously-scheduled professional development day Friday will now be an instructional day, he said. 

The district is also looking at changing end-of-term dates to add instructional days. 

"With the uncertainty of the duration of the strike, we couldn't set a definitive timeline yet but we'll be working on that over the next couple of days and get that out to parents [later this week]," Eberwein said.