Minister of Education Peter Fassbender has announced Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Health Employers' Association of B.C., will assume all responsibilities of the B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) "until such time as the necessary legislation is in place to restructure the bargaining process."
"Appointing a public administrator is the most transparent and effective means to implement BCPSEA's new bargaining mandate, which emphasizes the need for a long term collective agreement that is aligned with the province's education policy goals," a press release on the move from the Ministry stated. "Government's intention is to introduce amendments to legislation in the next legislative session to give government a direct role in negotiating agreements with the BCTF [B.C. Teachers' Federation]."
While government defended the move, saying it takes out the middleman and allows government to negotiate directly with teachers (which is what teachers said they wanted months ago) the decision isn't finding much favour with educators.
"Just to clarify: the BCTF asked government to meet directly with the union to discuss 'big ticket items' like salaries and class size and composition, not to dismantle BCPSEA," said Louise Herle, president of the Sunshine Coast Teachers' Association (SCTA). "BCTF definitely did not ask for democratically elected trustees to be pushed out of the picture."
School District No. 46 board chair Silas White was named vice-president of BCPSEA earlier this year. He said he's perplexed at government's move to dismantle BCPSEA.
"I think there's a perception that for government to move forward with their 10-year plan, they need complete control over bargaining, when in fact BCPSEA was created for co-governance between the employers, boards and government to work together," White said. "When the Minister phoned me as the vice chair of BCPSEA, and all of our directors, we were invited to stay on as advisors to government and to BCSTA [BC School Trustees' Association] in bargaining, but we're not sure what that looks like yet."
Depending on the role advisors would play, White said he's willing to contemplate involvement.
"It really would depend on the terms of reference. It's quite awkward because I've always been elected to BCPSEA by the boards around the province, and I'm accountable to fellow school trustees and work with fellow school trustees, whereas it sounds like this advisor role would be advising government, so that's a very different kind of role," he said. "I honestly don't know if this advisor role is anything more than trying to make people feel like we haven't been fired."
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