For the first time since June, full bargaining teams from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) were at the table this Friday, Aug. 8, attempting to hammer out a deal.
While both sides say they’re aiming for a negotiated settlement before the end of August, the government has announced a “contingency plan” to compensate parents if the teachers’ strike continues in September.
On July 31 Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the government’s plan to pay parents of students (under the age of 13) $40 per child for every school day the strike drags on.
The money, he said, would be split between about 300,000 eligible students and amount to about $12 million per day, which is what the government saves each day teachers are on strike.
The money could be used for child care costs or other educational opportunities, de Jong said, noting the age cut off was “somewhat arbitrary” and was chosen because government felt students aged 13 and up would be able to care for themselves during the day if not in class.
“They also have some additional resources and abilities that will allow them to access some of the online or alternative tutoring educational instruments that are available,” de Jong said.
In the past government has legislated teachers back to work before a new school year begins, but de Jong made it clear government has no plans to go that route this time.
“There is a requirement, there is a need to end this recurring trend of not negotiating an agreement. I’ll tell you that in the past, and I’ve been here for a few years, I think governments I’ve been a part of have moved very quickly, perhaps too quickly, to utilize the legislative instrument to impose an agreement,” de Jong said. “It’s time as parties representing the public and parties representing teachers that we sit down and hammer out that negotiated agreement.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said on Aug. 5 that he was optimistic about the Aug. 8 meeting with the BCTF, noting that “it’s the first time the entire teams on both sides have met together [since June], and so I’m looking forward to seeing negotiations begin in earnest this Friday.”
He noted both the BCTF and BCPSEA were willing to come to the table with some new ideas in the hope of reaching an agreement, but that he wanted to “leave that for the bargaining table.”
Sunshine Coast Teachers Association president Louise Herle told Coast Reporter this week that teachers were also hopeful for a settlement during this round of negotiations.
“We want to be back in the schools preparing for classes in August and teaching students Sept. 2,” she said, noting teachers won’t enter any school district buildings until a deal is reached.
While hopeful things will go well in bargaining, Herle said teachers weren’t pleased with the $40 a day plan announced by the province.
“This is insulting to teachers and an injustice to parents and students. All children in B.C. have a legal right to public education,” Herle said. “This government tactic serves only to prolong the strike and is not aimed at finding solutions. All citizens contribute tax dollars to public education. This is the wrong direction for the government to take.”
School trustees across the province are urging government in another direction as well, recently launching a Back to School Action Plan through the B.C. School Trustees’ Association (BCSTA).
The plan calls on all parties to “commit to working together to build a strong public education system that is student-centred, collegial and appropriately funded.”
The entire goal of the plan is to have B.C. students start the upcoming school year on time.
The plan urges teachers to modify their compensation package demands “so that the overall compensation package falls within the range that was accepted by other public sector unions,” and it asks government to put all the savings from the lockout and the teachers’ strike into the Learning Improvement Fund to help support students.
“These two recommendations could bring a negotiated settlement within reach that would then allow schools to open on time,” the plan states.
At the local level, School District No. 46 school board trustees recently penned a letter to Fassbender calling the $40 a day plan “an appalling step in the wrong direction” and asking government to accept the BCSTA’s back to school action plan.
“It’s not too late to change direction,” board chair Betty Baxter wrote.
The letter specifically asked government to rescind their $40 a day offer, equip the government’s negotiator with the proper resources to negotiate, keep bargaining out of the media and “bring some flexibility to enable a mediator to assist the parties to find an agreement.”
“It is our sincere hope that some of the commitment and pride that your government brings to the goal of a balanced budget can be brought to the goal of a functional, world-class education system,” Baxter said.
She ended the letter by asking government to focus on the students.
“It is they who suffer the longer you fail to negotiate but who can succeed beyond our expectation if we all determine to work together.”
© Coast Reporter