Public school support workers and the provincial government reached a tentative deal Wednesday night, quashing fears of an imminent labour strike that could have disrupted the school year.
But if local CUPE unions ultimately ratify the agreement, school districts will be on the hook to pay for a negotiated 3.5-per-cent wage increase.
"Absolutely this will be challenging. We don't have any extra money and now there's a burden placed upon the district to find those dollars (if the deal is ratified)," said John Gaiptman, superintendent of the Greater Victoria School District (SD61).
The province has told school districts that they need to find the money for support staff wage increases in their existing budgets.
Regardless of that obstacle, Gaiptman said the tentative deal is "very good news."
"We were really hoping that a deal could be struck with CUPE that would be acceptable to both parties and ensure that our support staff would be in our schools and that the school year would not be disrupted," he said.
Gilles Larose, president of CUPE 382, which represents some 225 custodial, trades and non-trades workers in SD61, said the agreement is "a positive step forward."
"At the end of the day it's about getting the best deal for district, for our members and for the K-12 sector. We want to be valued for the work we do, and we think this went somewhat towards this," Larose said.
The tentative two-year deal, retroactive to July 1, 2012, includes a 3.5-per-cent wage increase over the two years, and introduces a system for up-front prescription costs. There are no concessions for CUPE workers in the tentative deal.
Barb Fetherstonhaugh, PAC president at Spectrum community school, says she, too, is glad a tentative agreement was reached.
"In my head I've been thinking back to when teachers were on job action (in the 2011-12 school year) and how it affected students, staff, the overall co-operative and supportive environment of the school," she said. "It's hard when parts of that community are experiencing the stress of job action, so this is a relief."
Support staff in the Greater Victoria School District are represented by both CUPE 382 and CUPE 947, which represents some 900 inside workers.
Larose says the next steps in the process involve the CUPE BC K-12 Presidents' Council having to ratify the framework agreement, then each of the unions around the province will have a ratification vote before the end of the year.