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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 6, April 2006

AGM report: Democratic decision making

by Peter Owens

Almost 700 BCTF members spent the first part of their spring break at the 2006 BCTF Annual General Meeting. The AGM develops policy, sets the BCTF fee for the following school year, and elects the Executive Committee.

The AGM increased the fee for next year by 0.04% and reduced Salary Indemnity Plan payments by 0.3%. That will mean a member earning $60,000 will pay approximately $156 less in total fees to the BCTF next year.

The AGM set bargaining objectives for the next round of bargaining beginning this month. The focus will be on improving teaching and learning conditions, a salary increase to make our salaries competitive with Alberta and Ontario, and promoting the protection of teachers and the safety of students. (See "AGM bargaining decisions," page 7.)

Support was expressed for the role of locally elected school boards as the democratic representatives of the community responsible for the provision of quality public education. The BCTF is opposed to the concept of regional school boards, with the loss of any accountability to the community.

The BCTF is also opposed to any initiatives to introduce school-based budgeting or other forms of school-based management that conflict with the democratic nature of public schools being governed by locally elected school boards. Studies have shown that in jurisdictions that have gone to that model, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, there is an increase in the disparity between schools based on their socio-economic areas. Another phenomenon is that the schools tend to spend more time, resources, and money recruiting students and less on the classroom. Other studies have shown that "school-based" decision making is really principal-based decision-making.

The AGM called for a dramatic shift in our schools away from the current accountability agenda that emphasizes inappropriate testing, ranking, and narrow achievement measures to one that focusses on providing the conditions for optimal teaching and learning. In order to facilitate that shift, teachers are encouraged to:

  • participate in educational change that will produce a positive outcome for student learning.
  • increase their active involvement with parents through PACs.
  • express to parents and trustees our educational and professional concerns with FSA testing and standardized tests.
  • withdraw from participation in the formulation of all accountability contracts and school growth plans.
  • withdraw from participation on school planning councils.

Three years ago we decided to participate in school planning councils because we felt there was a potential for having the need for classroom resources discussed at the school level. Experience has proven SPCs to be ineffective at getting improvements in schools and have simply become instruments for implementing the government’s accountability agenda. In withdrawing from SPCs, teachers are being asked to strengthen their working relationships with parents through school PACs. BCTF President Jinny Sims explained how teachers could withdraw from participation in SPCs, "We are expecting some teachers may finish this year’s work and withdraw from SPCs by June 2006, but in the meantime they should not participate in planning for next year. It is unfortunate that the government made SPCs an integral part of their accountability agenda."

A new procedure for supporting and enforcing collective strategies of the union was adopted. The new procedure ensures that enforcement is in the interest of the union and that members have access to an appeal process.

Support was expressed for Aboriginal education and called on government to encourage participation in the enhancement agreement process. It also called on government to enact employment equity legislation that will lead to full equality between men and women and equity of inclusion for Aboriginal and minority groups in all aspects of employment.

The only change to the BCTF Executive Committee came with the retirement of John Chisamore (Cranbrook), who was replaced by the election of John Wadge (Surrey).

One of the most memorable and moving events at this year’s AGM was the speech by Stephen Lewis describing his work in alleviating the suffering caused by the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa. (See "Stephen Lewis..." page 7.)

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

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