Tentative settlement reached in teachers strike

If deal approved, schools to re-open next week, says premier.

The schools are ready to go. Now, the teachers in School District 20 (SD20) could be ready to go.

B.C.’s striking teachers are expected to vote Thursday on a tentative settlement that was reached with the provincial government early Tuesday morning.

Premier Christy Clark said if the vote passes, schools will be up and running again as early as Monday. She thanked parents for their patience, saying a negotiated settlement was the only way to improve a relationship that has been dysfunctional for 30 years.

“We’ll have five years to talk about the things that really matter, and that’s children in classrooms,” Clark said in Vancouver Tuesday.

Negotiators on both sides have agreed to keep details under wraps, but Darrel Ganzert, SD20 board chair, says the news is good, and he can’t see either party turning down the bargaining committee’s recommendations.

“Typically, the way things work is if the bargaining committee recommends acceptance to the membership, then it’s a done deal.” he explained. “At this point, I can’t see either membership turning it down, but it could happen.”

After teachers vote to ratify the agreement Thursday, Ganzert said the next step is for the province’s 60 school district boards of education to ratify contract terms by Friday.

Although the BC Public School Employers’ Association (boards of education) had no say at the bargaining table, he noted that technically school boards are the teachers’ employers and must now take a provincial vote.

“As long as the majority agrees with the terms, kids will soon be back in school,” he added.

Over the summer when picket lines were down in the district, custodians had access to SD20 facilities, confirmed Ganzert.

He said major repairs such as water line replacements and new roofing has been completed in local schools, alongside the general maintenance that includes cleaning.

“The only issue is that teachers typically end the last week of summer getting their rooms organized,” Ganzert noted. “So if the picket lines come down quickly, hopefully tomorrow, then teachers will have a couple of days to get their classrooms organized.”

That means students could be sitting in their desks early next week.

Mediator Vince Ready announced the breakthrough after five days of talks at a Richmond hotel. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the province’s negotiators agreed to withhold details until a final document is presented to present to BCTF members and school trustees.

With a ratification vote of 40,000 union members expected to be held tomorrow, the province’s 60 school districts are attempting to return to regular classes next week after five weeks of full-scale strike action that began last June.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said a plan is being developed to make up missed instructional days, which could involve rescheduling Christmas holidays, spring break or adding days to the end of the school year. Every student’s education will be “kept whole,” particularly senior high school students looking ahead to post-secondary studies, he said.

The agreement includes money to settle thousands of union grievances accumulated since the province removed class size and teacher staffing levels from the teacher contract in 2002.

Clark said the deal includes increased funds to hire more teachers to address class size and special needs support. It is for six years, retroactive to the expiry of the earlier agreement last spring, with raises averaging just over one per cent per year.

The government’s appeal of a court decision ordering the return of 2002 class size provisions will continue, Clark said.

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