Unions fear staff reductions amid investment shortfall

Skellefteå is growing – but several schools have already been informed about cutbacks.
Skellefteå is growing – but several schools have already been informed about cutbacks.

In anticipation of autumn 2024, significant cuts in the municipality's primary schools in Skellefteå are being discussed. There is a deficit of about 90 million kronor, and many jobs could be lost. The committee wants the deficit to be written off, but it remains unclear how this would affect the proposed savings. "This is the biggest economic challenge for a long time," says Mikael Johansson of the Swedish teaching union, Sveriges Lärare.

Skellefteå 2 februari 2024 11:45

Norran has previously reported on the poor financial situation of primary schools. Last autumn, the primary and elementary school board faced a significant deficit, raising concerns about possible job losses.

In recent weeks, Norran has received numerous indications that staff may not have their contracts renewed. The focus is primarily on proposed cuts to classroom support positions such as school assistants, teacher assistants, and educational aides, commonly referred to as supplemental services.

– We are very concerned about this development. These are staff that are needed for a healthy working environment and good results in schools, says Mikael Johansson, chairman of Sveriges Lärare in Skellefteå. 

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Mikael Johansson, chairman of Sveriges Lärare i Skellefteå (Sweden's Teachers in Skellefteå), is concerned about the proposed budget cuts.

Despite what the municipality's administration calls a "historic investment" in primary and elementary schools this year - an extra 162 million kronor compared to last year - it is not enough. The administration believes there is still a shortfall of around 90 million kronor.

– We teachers already have a heavy workload. Now we will be even less able to cope, says Johansson.

The municipality's primary schools are divided into 14 main areas. Signals from the union suggest that all areas will be forced to make cuts.

In many schools, the staff has already been informed. However, processes are still underway and the relevant unions are involved, so the exact outcome remains unclear. Schools chief Henrik Bolin estimates that between 80 and 100 contracts won't be renewed.

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Skellefteå's primary schools have been underfunded for a long time, as both the administration and politicians in the municipality have acknowledged.

Boliden-Jörn and Sörböle seem to be among the areas most affected. Several sources tell Norran that the original proposal in Boliden-Jörn was to reduce the number of jobs from around 70 to 50, in an area that is already facing challenges.

– Skellefteå is growing, which makes it even more difficult to understand; it's even more frustrating. If we are to manage this transition, the school needs the right resources. We thought that everyone shared this view, but now it feels like we've been set back several years, says Johansson.

– The people the municipality wants to let go are our future colleagues. I don't think they will stay and wait for new jobs in the school system, given the current job market conditions.

Many of those affected are members of the Kommunal union. Marielle Ågren at Kommunal in Skellefteå has never seen such significant cost-cutting proposals in her time as a union representative.

– The employer has indicated that, due to the economic situation, employees may have to be transferred between different schools. This has caused great concern among our members, she says.

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Many of the assistants who seem to be affected are affiliated with Kommunal (the Municipal Workers' Union), says Marielle Ågren.

On Wednesday, the primary and elementary school committee decided to adopt an action plan for a balanced budget. They already want the expected deficit for 2024 to be written off by the full assembly.

However, according to Mikael Johansson, it is still unclear what this could mean for the ongoing discussions about savings. The individual decision to write off the deficit does not generate more funds, he emphasizes. Lorents Burman (S), municipal councillor in Skellefteå, is more hopeful.

– It is a good decision to apply to write off the deficit. The school system is growing, and we cannot make significant cuts in personnel in this situation, he says.

But aren't those cuts being discussed right now?

– Unless we have the security of writing off the deficit and don't have to cut back on resources for economic reasons. We will make a political decision on this in the municipal assembly.

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Lorents Burman (S) and his colleagues in the municipal council are ultimately responsible for the budget allocation to various committees.

He agrees that the school system has been underfunded for a long time.

– An obvious explanation is that we lost 5,000 inhabitants in 20 years. That represents 300 million kronor a year in tax revenue. Now we're working to address that.

Will you give the school system even more money in the future to compensate?

– It would be presumptuous of me to comment on that now. But schools and social services are top priorities, says Burman.

Fredrik Stenberg (S), chairman of the primary and elementary school committee, is also reluctant to comment on how the latest decision might affect cost-cutting proposals. Regardless, adjustments to the budget will be necessary, he says.

– There will always be adjustments. There's a perception that we're not going to renew any temporary contracts at all. But that's not true. In the committee we value complementary skills.

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Norran has previously reported on the lack of investment in Skellefteå's schools. Several sources have expressed concern that schools that already have fewer resources may face an even worse situation.

Henrik Bolin, head of the primary school department in Skellefteå municipality, prefers to talk about budget adjustments rather than cuts or savings.

– It could be perceived as having significant consequences, and that's understandable. But we can't go on like this; we have to change the way we work to make more efficient use of every krona. That's what we're discussing now, he says.

Like moving employees from one school to another?

– Yes, it gives us an opportunity to strengthen equity by distributing personnel. I understand that it's not what you want on an individual level, but for the overall benefit of our schools, it's something we need to look at.

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Henrik Bolin, primary school manager in Skellefteå municipality.

The committee's desire to write off the deficit may affect the extent of the cuts, but Bolin emphasizes that the municipality must plan based on the budgetary conditions that exist here and now.

– If it turns out the way the committee wants, then maybe we can have a discussion about whether we can extend more contracts. But that's something we'll look at, he says.

Skellefteå municipality is already struggling to find qualified teachers. What signal does this send?

– I know that many people are worried about the situation; this concern has shown up in the risk assessments we've done. But now we have a reality where we have to manage with fewer economic resources. It's undoubtedly worrying, and it's important that we have a discussion about how we're going to manage.

– Complementary skills (classroom support positions such as school assistants, teacher assistants, and educational aides) are our future investment, our response to the growth that Skellefteå is experiencing.

But they are the ones who will be affected if you now cut the budget?

– Yes, but some are permanent employees, and we want to keep them. It's a constant compromise between the budget and the desired investments, says Bolin.


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