I write this letter in an effort to speak for myself as a teacher in this continuing contract dispute. Due to the lack of bargaining in good faith with which we are currently faced, the job action we have undertaken is the only way left to us to protest the cuts to public education which will eventually affect all of us.
Even though we will soon be prevented from further protest, I still feel compelled to offer a perspective that differs from what we have largely seen in the media.
Let us, for a few minutes, put aside the salary perspective, and consider what this contract dispute is really about, because it is so much more than wage increases.
It’s about school districts like ours, working hard to submit fair and balanced budgets, being surprised and left scrambling, time after time, to cover funding shortfalls that were announced after budgets had been approved.
It’s about having to rob Peter to pay Paul, where districts must ‘find the money’ from inadequate budgets by robbing one area to cover another. Will it be librarians, supplies, or special education that gets cut? Busing, maintenance, or training?
Sure, per-student funding is at its highest level in years, but what has not been articulated clearly enough, is that this funding has failed to keep pace with the increases in overall costs. The formula has been altered and slashed so that many of the school district’s operating expenses must now come out of per-student funding. These include things like building insurance, carbon offsets, and the budget line items that have seen increases in costs but no commensurate increase in per-student allotment to compensate, such as transportation. Labour settlements, which include but are not limited to salary increases, have not been fully covered by government funding.
It’s about the fact that special needs students who are unable to feed, toilet, or navigate a school independently, are no longer qualified to receive full-time support, and have not been for years.
It’s about the increasing group of grey-area kids who don’t quite qualify for anything other than half an hour of support, three times a week, because the gap between their achievement and ability isn’t big enough yet. They must continue to fall behind until they meet the criteria for a funding category, and become eligible for the help that they deserved all along.
It’s about schools and individual teachers feeding children who arrive at school hungry, because BC’s child poverty rate is the highest in the country, for the 10th year in a row.
It’s about a government who illegally stripped the teachers’ contract (which was, by the way, an arbitrated settlement) of clauses that directly affect student learning – namely, class size and composition. Students need a safe, un-crowded place to learn, where there is a reasonable expectation that their program will actually meet their needs.
It’s about a government who defied the Supreme Court ruling that required them to negotiate a settlement within one year, for violating our Charter Rights by unilaterally stripping these provisions from that contract without consultation and bargaining with us. This is a government who has attracted the negative attention of the United Nations more than 60 times for their treatment of public employees.
It’s about scores of teachers, who go to work every day, wondering how we are going to meet the challenges that await us, with one hand tied behind our backs, and being forced to do more and more with less and less – less money, less time, less energy to go around.
It’s about abrupt, ill-considered changes in policy and direction that, in the end, will benefit only a small segment of the student population – the economically favoured – while leaving the others in the dust.
It’s about the damage that has been caused, and will be felt for years to come, by chronic under-funding of public education. The human cost is already incalculable.
All of B.C.’s children have a right to an education that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, to be valued and respected for their contributions to society, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status.
So, you see, it’s not only about salaries, it is about democracy and a right to fair treatment by our government.