Many old issues remain for new school year

Teachers are now preparing to head back into the courtroom even as they begin preparing lesson plans in the first week of school.

New school year, same old story.

Teachers are now preparing to head back into the courtroom even as they begin preparing lesson plans in the first week of school, less than two months after the province’s teachers broke a year-long labour dispute with a new contract.

However, Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union president Andy Davidoff said many of the key issues relating to last year’s labour dispute—such as class sizes—have largely gone unresolved.

“The courts can’t do anything about it, which is something we’re challenging as well,” he said Tuesday on the first day of classes for many SD20 students. “Our contract is up at the end of next June and we’re going to see what happens with other public service selections in the province.”

In 2001 the government stripped the teachers collective agreement’s language in what courts ruled an illegal action. In fact, it’s the same judge teachers will be speaking to about reinstating the language and funding for into the contract before it was stripped.

Teachers are still asking for class size limits to be returned, and to incorporate a variety of formulas and ratios for the number of English as a second language students and special needs students per class.

“That’s where the government is saving its money,” he said. “The big struggle in B.C. is between the teachers and this government. We’re just asking for the illegally stripped language that used to be in our collective agreements to be returned and reinstated in our collective agreement.”

He acknowledged the frustration of returning to the last labour dispute tactics of the previous school year, but with three high-profile members of the B.C. Liberal government—including Education Minister George Abbott—announcing that they will not be seeking re-election next May, teachers are eager to see what caucus will churn out.

“But we’re not going to miss (Education Minister) George Abbott,” Davidoff said. “I think the public is tired of hearing about it from the teachers’ side and from the government’s side and they’re tired of the whole debate; but the one thing people need to understand is that when you don’t have limits on class sizes, students suffer.”

SD20’s budget has been further reduced by $1.5 million this year, a move that could jeopardize elective courses or blocks. Davidoff noted one school in the district had a metal-work class for students in Grades 10-12, with six special needs students, all in one class.

“And that’s not good for anybody,” he said. “Principals of schools are struggling with offering electives and even non-elective courses. I know, I’m dealing with a situation right now where we’re trying to sort out how to offer a Math 12 with a Chem 12, which is going through all kinds of machinations.”

But SD20 superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach has urged principals to keep class sizes under 30, where possible.

“And I really think that’s commendable because they’re trying to keep class sizes down as close to the 30 as possible in Grade 4 to 12,” Davidoff said. “But many districts across the province are going to have class sizes that exceed the 30.”

In early August a new B.C. Court of Appeal decision on class sizes meant that school administrators must be accountable to teachers for planning class sizes, overturning a 2009 decision in arbitration that said as long as a classroom did not exceed 33 students, opinions of a principal or superintendent mattered when determining if the size and composition were appropriate.

However, in a move last March to deal with a budgetary shortfall, School District No 20 decided to impose a district-wide rise of one student in the student-to-teacher ratio—from 24-1 to 25-1.

The rule under the School Act capped class sizes above Grade 4 at 30 students, “unless the principal consults with the teacher, principal and superintendent from the opinion the class is appropriate for student learning.”