Local teachers will be back to the picket lines this week if bargaining talks with the province stall in the next few days.
Salary bumps aren’t the centre of the ongoing dispute between the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the Ministry of Education, says Andy Davidoff, adding that a pay scale agreement between both sides is within one percent.
What remains at an impasse is classroom size and composition, maintains the Kootenay-Columbia Teachers’ Union President, and the chronic underfunding for all of B.C.’s students including the lack of sufficient support for at-risk youth or those with special needs.
“The bottom line is that nothing has changed since the end of June,” said Davidoff. “Talks will continue today (Monday) so hopefully that’s good news. But locally we’ve passed resolutions to commence picketing this week and next week if provincial talks break down.”
Although he remains hopeful for a resolution to the full scale strike, Davidoff noted that the BCTF is due back in court this fall for a hearing about the union’s lawsuit against the government regarding the stripping of “language” from the teacher’s contract.
He said in 2002, the government took away the teacher’s collective agreement clause that delineated the maximum class sizes at different grade levels and the number of support workers and teaching specialists each school should have based on that population.
“The courts have ruled twice that was illegal so we are back in court in October,” he said. “Some of us are thinking that possibly the government is waiting for that court decision rather than settle now.”
The only way school will be back in September is if the public demands the strike to be settled, Davidoff continued. “Parents have a critical role. The government is dismissing teachers’ demands so if parents and grandparents step up, that’s when the government will pay attention.”
The matters goes back to 1988 with the start of integration of special needs students into regular classrooms, explained Davidoff.
Since that time, the province has taken away the ratio of specialized teachers to students, he said, adding, “there’s no limit in the number of special needs kids in the classroom which has caused an incredible amount of stress for our members.”
“Integration is a very good idea because it’s important for us to work, learn and share what is real life,” he said. “But when you have a high number of special needs students in your class, you have to have the supports in place. That is what we are fighting for.”
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.
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.
B.C.’s finance minister recently announced a subsidy that would give parents $40 a day for child care tutoring or other educational options for children under 13 if the strike extends into the school year. The money would come from the $12 million the government saves each day that teachers are not in the classroom.
“What the heck is that,” questioned Davidoff. “They are willing for the first time ever to pay our CUPE colleagues because of our job action and picketing,” he continued. “They’re willing to pay everybody instead of putting the money into the system.”