School summer maintenance unfinished due to strike

Will Valley public schools be ready Sept. 2 if negotiators can reach an 11th hour deal to end their summer long B.C. teachers’ contract wrangle?

That’s one of the questions parents were asking this week and Joe Rhodes, schools superintendent for School District 79, affirmed that schools will open if the district gets the word that there’s a deal.

"We’ll crank her up as we can in the time line we’re told to. I know there will be hiccups, some minor delays, but we can make it work one way or another. It would be great to see some kids in schools," he said.

The Cowichan Valley school district, because its maintenance and busing departments are located behind the board office, has been hard hit by the summer long presence of picketers there.

"They were not able to dispatch because their workers would not cross the line," Rhodes said.

However, custodians did get in to clean schools because they were not picketed.

"From that perspective our schools are ready. Our administrators are in and there will probably be some supplies that didn’t get delivered but we would manage to be up and running by Sept. 2."

However there could be "one glitch," he said.

"Our buses have to be inspected before they can be licensed every year. Some of our fleet have not been inspected yet because our mechanics are our inspectors.

"So we would really have to fasttrack that process to get all our buses up and running. Other than that, there will be some bumps because there will be some teachers who have changed schools but who haven’t been able to get their rooms set up," Rhodes said.

Outside the schools, however, is a different story.

"The grounds are deplorable," he admitted. "I think our five managers are trying to get around and at least do a little bit of cosmetic work as best we can but until the picket lines come down, we’ve got a challenge in that area."

That means that Cowichan Valley’s list of projects just didn’t get done.

"Standard roofing repairs, all those kinds of things, none of that work was done this summer," Rhodes said. If there is a settlement relatively soon some of that will be started up right away.

"Some of it, however, is summer work because we need an empty building to do it, but the day-today maintenance, the work-order stuff, and anything that’s emergent or safety related, would be done first.

"A lot of the final restructuring work that we wanted to get completed in the middle schools as they became elementary, well, that sat because we couldn’t deploy our maintenance staff. It’s been very frustrating. Two months of really productive work when the schools are vacant: it’s sort of the prime time to do maintenance and we were unable to do it," he said.