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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

What have we gained?

by Peter Owens

Before our job action in October, the government claimed there were no problems in education and conditions in our schools were better than ever. Teachers were expected to accept zero improvements in students’ learning conditions and no increase in pay. Teachers’ voices were to be ignored or silenced.

By taking a stand and exercising our right to withdraw our services, we brought about a number of positive changes. The government has acknowledged in public that class size and class composition are problems that need to be addressed.

For the very first time, the government collected class-size data for every grade. The government has met at the Learning Round Table to explore solutions to problems teachers are facing in their classrooms. The Minister of Education has visited the BCTF building and met with BCTF representatives to discuss the concerns of teachers.

As well, teachers have developed a more assertive attitude about having input into how decisions are made in their schools. Locals signed off on decisions on spending the $20 million allocated to the schools to alleviate class-size and composition problems. Teachers also signed off on plans to spend the money provided to the schools because of our strike. Teachers have expressed a sense of ownership over the funds being directed back to our classrooms.

Following is a brief update on some of the benefits that came out of our strike and our courage to take a stand for public education. We know that this is only the beginning of the improvements we need to make to restore services for our students and ensure that there are no attempts to silence the voice of teachers in the future.

$20 million for class size and composition
The $20 million agreed to in Vince Ready’s recommendations ending our two-week strike has been allocated to schools to hire teachers, special education teachers, and learning assistance teachers to help with oversized classes and problems of class composition. The locals and school boards signed off on the best use of this money in each community. As a result, hundreds of additional teachers have been hired by districts and will be working with students.

$40 million SIP rebate
Cheques with rebates for teachers’ Salary Indemnity Plan contributions have been mailed to members’ homes. The rebate will cover SIP contributions for this school year.

The $40 million is also part of the Ready agreement ending our strike and has been sent to teachers who were working in September 2005.

TOC payment and seniority
The BCTF met with the BC Public School Employers’ Association to negotiate TOC pay and seniority provisions provided by the Ready agreement. The parties agreed that we were far apart and needed to refer the matters to Ready for final and binding resolution.

$40 million for grid harmonization
We will meet with BCPSEA and attempt to negotiate an agreement on the use of the $40 million provided through the Ready agreement for grid harmonization. It is the intention of the BCTF to reduce the number of years it takes teachers to reach full salary. If no progress is made with BCPSEA, Ready will arbitrate a resolution.

Teacher bargaining structure
The government had earlier appointed Ready as an Industrial Inquiry Commissioner to recommend changes to the dysfunctional bargaining structure. BCPSEA has yet to negotiate an agreement since it was mandated that responsibility in 1994. The BCTF has had to negotiate with government, or Ready in the most recent set of negotiations, in order to achieve agreements.

The BCTF is making the case with Ready that:

  • The structure must be acceptable to both parties in order for it to work.
  • We must be able to negotiate all the terms of our employment.
  • We must have the right to strike.
  • There must be a system to effectively address class size and composition.
  • That local bargaining is the best method to meet the needs of students and teachers in different communities.

The Learning Round Table
BCTF representatives have been participating in the meetings of the Learning Round Table. To date, representatives of administrators, trustees, and superintendents have resisted the idea of firm class-size limits. This despite ministry information showing that there are over 9,000 Grade 4–12 classes with more than 30 students in them. However, at the primary level where there are firm limits, there are only 20 Kindergarten classes over 20 and 21 Grade 1–3 classes over 24. Specific classes over the limits are being grieved.

We are continuing to meet at the round table and insisting on firm class-size limits in the School Act to protect our students’ learning conditions.

Meetings with ministry
BCTF representatives are also meeting separately with the minister of education to discuss concerns about class size and composition. These meetings are a result of our job action and the Ready recommendations.

Minister Bond attended a meeting at the BCTF building on December 14, 2005, and was given a tour and explanation of the breadth of the work of the BCTF.

$56 million "saved" by strike action
The government has allocated $50 per student to each school district and $50 per student for schools to use to improve student learning. There is to be agreement between teachers, parents, and administrators for using the funds at the school level.

There is to be agreement between the school boards and locals for the use of the district funds.

Peter Owens is assistant director, BCTF Communications and Campaigns Division, and editor of Teacher newsmagazine.

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