Education Minister George Abbott held a press conference last week to say he was excited about the positive steps government has taken to improve the 2012/13 school year, but teachers don’t share his enthusiasm.
“We do have some new initiatives underway in terms of the learning improvement fund. The $195 million fund aimed at improving our management of special needs issues in the classroom,” Abbott said during a telephone conference with reporters on Aug. 28. “And we’ve got a new superintendent of reading, Maureen Dockendorf, who’s working with all 60 school districts to improve our performance on early reading.”
School District No. 46 (SD46) superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said the Coast will get about $400,000 from the fund this year.
“We are looking at which students are vulnerable and what we can do with that money to support them,” he said.
“We are recognizing, of course, that reading is a fundamental that all students need to have, and we have an ambitious plan to address reading in our district. We want all our kids to be able to read. One way we’re supporting that is through the learning improvement fund, but there are other special needs that can be addressed through that as well. There might be some behavioural needs or other ways that we can use those funds to hire SETAs [special education teaching assistants] and others to further support kids.”
He said conversations about how to use the money started last year, and once SD46 gets a clear picture of class configurations this year, plans will be put in place.
Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Asso-ciation president Louise Herle said the fund does nothing to help the real issue of overworked teachers in oversized classrooms.
“On the Sunshine Coast we have lost over 25 teaching positions in the last five years. The Liberal learning improvement fund provides about one or two additional local teachers this autumn — hardly sufficient to cover staffing needs for one school, let alone the entire District,” she said.
“The Liberal government passed Bill 22 in March. There are no longer limits on the numbers of students in classes from grades 4 to 12, and there is no recognition of the additional requirements of students with special needs. We begin this new school year with fewer teachers and fewer resources.”
During bargaining discussions with the government last year, local teachers took a vote to withdraw volunteer extra-curricular activities in an effort to show how much extra work teachers do.
The withdrawal meant after school clubs and sports groups ceased in some cases and it’s uncertain if the withdrawal will continue this year.
Herle said the issue will be discussed at an upcoming general meeting, but that for now the withdrawal stands.
Abbott said he hopes this new school year will bring with it more constructive conversations between teachers and government and noted the province may have to approach negotiations differently this time around.
“I think one of the things we need to think about in the months ahead is precisely that question, whether we need to do something different in terms of labour negotiation,” he said.
“There have been thoughtful reports tendered to government by Don Wright and Vince Ready and probably others as well in earlier times. I think those need to be dusted off. I think there needs to be pretty honest and open discussion between the Teachers’ Federation and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association and government about how do we do this next time.
“I think there are some things we can learn from our experience of the last few months: how was it that we went on for a year without any changes in the position of parties only to reach an agreement at the last moment under the mediation of Mr. Jago? Is there something we can learn from that? I think perhaps there is, and it’s important that we do that.”