Hayley Hutchinson (left) and Timberlee Borsato were up to their elbows in school supplies this week as they processed and packed back-to-school essentials for 159 Skool Aid orders at Halls Basics in downtown Trail.

Back-to-school plans continue despite dispute

Back-to-school shopping is underway in Greater Trail, even if the first day back remains an unknown.

Back-to-school shopping is underway in Greater Trail, even if the first day back remains an unknown.

While local stores are pitching the latest items in storefront signs, the government is pitching the latest bargaining news online.

At Halls Basics in downtown Trail, it’s been business as usual as staff organize a large number of school supply orders in addition to 159 packages for the nonprofit Skool Aid program.

This year is no exception – the Trail business has kicked into high gear to finish processing back-to-school orders.

What is different, is where the pencils, pens, and notebooks will be delivered because dropping such essentials off on school grounds is out of the question at this point.

“Things seem to change daily so at this point, we really don’t know where the orders will be delivered,”said Tara DeJong, Halls Basics manager. “We usually deliver our PAC orders to the school and would have done so Monday (Aug. 25).  But now we’ll have to wait and see.”

If strike issues aren’t resolved by the first day of school, Sept. 2, the B.C. government has launched a website to keep parents up-to-date on the latest talks in the province’s ongoing teachers’ dispute.

The website, bcparentinfo.ca also provides a link for parents with children under 13 attending B.C. public schools, to register for a $40 per day per child subsidy should the strike drag on.

The site also provides online resources, such as links to free courses including First Aid certification and Foodsafe Level 1 through Open School BC and LearnNowBC.

Locally, the lack of a teachers’ picket line could mean there’s been progress at the bargaining table now that mediator Vince Ready is involved.

“We decided that if there was no progress made at all then we would start picketing today (Aug. 18),” said the Kootenay-Columbia Teachers’ Union President, Andy Davidoff. “I would say that by not seeing us on the picket line, there’s hope for a settlement.”

Talks have continued under a media blackout since Ready met the two sides last week.

“With Vince Ready now in the mix, let’s just say that’s a good thing,” said Davidoff. “He knows the issues in education and has worked on settling disputes in the past. Let’s just say we have some hope this has the possibility of being resolved before school starts.”

Davidoff couldn’t offer further details due to the communications blackout, but added, “We want a deal before school starts because that’s in everyone’s interest.”

The province’s 40,000 teachers launched a full-scale strike about two weeks before the end of the school year, calling for wage hikes and for the Ministry of Education to address issues such as class size and composition.

Stephen Kelleher, a B.C. Supreme Court Justice, declined to attempt mediation earlier in the summer after finding too large a gap between both sides.

The Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, and the boards’ of education chief negotiator Peter Cameron maintain that the BCTF’s benefit demands remain far beyond those of other public sector union that have settled contracts.

The union’s most recent proposal sought a salary hike and two multimillion-dollar funds to hire more teachers and resolve grievances, but provincial government officials said the proposals are not affordable when compared with other public sector workers.

“We repeat words Christy Clark used in the Vancouver truckers’ dispute,” said Davidoff. “We’d rather have a deal than a fight. So if she really believes that, then let’s cut a deal and not a fight.”

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