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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 2, October 2005

Voices in the legislature: Teachers talk to MLAs

Charlene Watts, Smithers
I journeyed to Victoria with the preconceived notion that I would be accorded five minutes of the MLA’s time. I prepared my lobby based on the needs of gifted, talented, and creative children in B.C. This was the thrust of my message to him.

During the last two school years identification of students with gifted ability has dropped by approximately 3,000. I do not believe that there are 3,000 fewer gifted students. The students who need help have not disappeared but the funding and resources to service our students has disappeared.

With much of special education funding arriving in school districts now as block funding with no target line for specific service for gifted and with school districts struggling with sparse budgets, the gifted have lost services. In many areas what is important has given way to what is urgent.

The Ministry of Education used to have a special education division person assigned to some responsibility for students with gifted abilities and available to provide help to school districts, albeit of late just over the phone. It seems that that help is no longer available either.

The message I gave to my MLA was the same one all of our provincial specialist association executive members give and is also the one we hear everywhere: Help is needed!

I was able to give specific examples and also reinforce the message, as I was pleasantly surprised to spend at least 25 minutes in conversation with my Liberal MLA, Dennis MacKay (Bulkley Valley-Stikine), about the issues of adequate funding, targetted funding, ample resources and services for students with gifted abilities in the public schools. He asked many questions about how the public school system works–how the services are delivered to special needs students in the public school setting. Using my local as an example, I explained as much as the time permitted.

As a result of connecting with my MLA through his local constituency office, I will now be involved in a committee examining the special needs services required for people in his riding.

The introduction in Question Period later in the afternoon was a first for me, and I was delighted and proud to represent my PSA in this very important time for public education in B.C.

Charlene Watts, President, Association for Educators of Gifted, Talented, and Creative Children in B.C.

Michael Schratter, Vancouver
On Tuesday, September 21, I had the privilege to join several teachers from various parts of the province in a united lobbying effort. By attending the legislature, we were hoping to make a teacher presence very visible and our issues very apparent to all MLAs. We wanted the MLAs to understand our concerns and hear about our earnest attempts to resolve them.

Part of the lobbying plan was for me to get in touch with my MLA, have him introduce me at the beginning of Question Period, and if possible, to have my MLA sit down with me for a short meeting. Though I tried with at least a dozen phone calls to my MLA’s Vancouver and Victoria offices, none of the above came to fruition. Gordon Campbell is a very busy man, unfortunately too busy for a short visit or to introduce me in the House or to grant me a pass to the legislature. Try as I might, it did not happen. In the end, I was introduced by the MLA for Vancouver—Kensington, David Chudnovsky.

I attended Question Period by finding a seat in the public seating gallery. The proceedings proved to be both educational and fascinating, especially the questioning of the Honorable Stan Hagen (Minster of Children and Family Development) and Honorable Wally Oppal (Attorney General) by Carole James and Jenny Kwan.

My message to the BCTF is keep up the good work and the creative lobbying tactics, and don’t hesitate to let me know if I can be of further help.

Michael Schratter, member of the Working and Learning Conditions/Bargaining Advisory Committee

Nancy Arends, Burnaby
I cannot begin to thank the Federation for this opportunity. I consider it a career highlight. It was wonderful to sit with other English teachers in the province and hear their stories. I was very interested in how we were "welcomed" by the various MLAs. Some were "not available," others wanted to hear us. I do believe we had an impact. Every little bit helps. It was so empowering to hear all the teachers introduced; it did send a strong message. I had to leave the meeting with MLA Diane Thorne early to catch a plane, but I managed to share a few stories from my teaching experience, and my colleagues were fully engaged with her when I left.

Nancy Arends teaches at Moscrop Secondary School, Burnaby

Geoff Peters, Coquitlam
The MLA lobbying at the legislature went well today. I attended as part of a group of teachers representing the Professional Issues Advisory Committee and the Working and Learning Conditions/Bargaining Advisory Committee. We met with the labour critic, Chuck Puchmayr, and MLAs David Cubberly (Saanich South), Norm McDonald (Columbia River-Revelstoke), and Colin Hansen (Vancouver Quilchena). All sessions were very useful in educating NDP MLA’S who either showed interest in the issues or asked questions and listened politely.

I would like to suggest that the Federation continue this lobby until every MLA has been visited at least once. I don’t think it would hurt for different teachers to revisit MLA’s already visited, because the messages will come from different perspectives. I think it is best to have teachers lobby their own MLAs, but it also works well to do so in pairs. It’s important for teachers to be introduced in the House because it shows that teachers are serious and want to speak to MLAs on both sides of the House.

Geoff Peters, member of the Working and Learning Conditions/Bargaining Advisory Committee

Rick Ferguson, Nicola Valley
Yesterday, a colleague, Delores Birney, and I had the pleasure of meeting with Chuck Puchmayr (NDP labour critic). We talked about the need for a bargaining process that would allow teachers to bargain the full scope of bargaining issues. We also told him of the inability at the local level to bargain anything at all. We explained how local collective agreements around the province had not been improved in any meaningful way in over a decade. Local agreements across the province in many ways differ from one another and many of them are deficient. Teachers across the province are treated differently with regard to posting, filling, evaluation, and many seniority issues. We have no mechanism to rectify this.

We talked about the Teaching and Learning Conditions Declaration and the work of the WLC/Bargaining Committee, and explained that class size and composition were fundamental issues for teachers to allow them to do the work they do in the best way possible. A union of professionals must have the ability to discuss and negotiate these issues.

In addition to the actual lobby, I would also like to say that an added benefit comes from this effort. Many who engage in the lobby process are empowered and return to their local as energized advocates. We are building added capacity and strength across the province with every teacher who meets with her or his MLA to inform and educate her or him on the issues.

Rick Fergusson, member of the Working and Learning Conditions/ Bargaining Advisory Committee

Robert Taylor, Williams Lake
I participated in the Legislature on September 20 and 21. On Tuesday afternoon, I visited with Charlie Wyse, the Cariboo South MLA. We discussed the issues facing the BCTF, not that it was news to Charlie, a retired teacher, but I reiterated the position that teachers were looking for a negotiated settlement, that we wanted to return to full collective bargaining, and that a reasonable salary increase was not untoward based on the rise in the cost of living, comparable jobs in other provinces, and the fact that the province was pleased to announce their 1.4 billion dollar surplus.

On Wednesday morning, I happened to meet David Chudnovsky, MLA for Vancouver Kensington and spent 20 minutes with him talking about the current issues in education. David emphasized the importance of lobbying and making sure that MLAs have the information.

Later on Wednesday, I attended question period, was introduced by Bob Simpson from Cariboo North and then met with David Cubberly, MLA for Saanich South. Anne-Louise MacFarland from the Professional Issues Advisory Committee and the PSA Council was also at that meeting. Again we stressed our position, beginning with what the changes to class size and composition meant in the field, not on paper. Cubberly asked pertinent questions about declining enrolment and was surprised that the number of teachers laid off was far greater than the decline would have dictated. We also discussed the need for a salary increase for teachers and the bargaining process overall. MacFarland and I reiterated the need for the class size and composition to be returned to the collective agreement and explained the impact of the contract stripping.

All in all, this was a great experience. We made our presence felt in the House, have put some faces to names for our MLA’s, and raised issues that can be discussed in Question Period.

Robert Taylor is a intermediate teacher, Williams Lake and a member of the Professional Issues Advisory Committee

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