Teachers need prep time if deal is reached

Labour Dispute

Christine Wood / Staff Writer
August 28, 2014 08:38 AM

Teachers were back on the picket line on Wednesday outside Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons, and throughout the Sunshine Coast.

Even if a deal is reached between teachers and the province before school is scheduled to start on Sept. 2, teachers will need time to prepare before kids can come back to class.

“We want to recognize that there were some activities that otherwise would have taken place in June that didn’t and that will have some impact on the start-up,” said assistant superintendent of schools Greg Kitchen at a special School District No. 46 (SD46) board meeting Wednesday afternoon.

He pointed to year-end paperwork usually completed by teachers that was left undone due to the strike and lockout in June as well as discussions around class configuration that didn’t take place over the spring.

“Sometimes at the secondary level there is quite a bit of work that takes place in late August around fine tuning and adjusting time tables as well, so those things not taking place prior to school start-up creates some challenges,” Kitchen said. “They are not undoable challenges … but it does make for a little more unsettled start-up for sure.”

The challenges could delay school start-up for a matter of hours or days once a deal is reached, although exactly how long teachers might need to prepare is still unclear.

Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association (SCTA) president Louise Herle said she’d “consult the membership on that,” adding she would not be able to speculate on the time needed until she talked with teachers.

Local teachers were walking the picket line once again as of Wednesday, Aug. 27, in an effort to “continue the pressure on the government,” Herle said.

She also asked school trustees during their special board meeting to apply more pressure to the provincial government.

“We’re very concerned that students will not be going back to school on Tuesday,” Herle said. “These next few days are critical, and in the next two days what are you as a board, as senior management, as a group and as individuals, what are you prepared to do?”

SD46 board chair Betty Baxter said the school board wrote two letters over the summer urging government to bargain with teachers, although SD46 never received any responses from the Ministry of Education.

She wouldn’t commit to sending another letter, saying the board had to be careful not to come across as one-sided.

“In order for us to have input into committees and be able to affect change at the provincial level, we have to be seen as balanced,” Baxter said. “If we are seen only as an advocate for teachers, that will undermine our ability to have input on other areas. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t support teachers; it means that we support teachers in balance with other activities.

“As a corporate board we have a responsibility to our whole community. Some of those might be pro-government on this particular issue, some of them might be pro-teacher. We’re trying to balance that at the same time as advocate for kids getting back to schools and public education not suffering from this long dispute.”

The dispute between teachers and the provincial government over a new contract came to a head in May when the BCTF announced rotating teacher strikes throughout the province. The rotating strikes later turned to full scale walkouts and eventually a government lockout that impacted the end of the school year.

Teachers are seeking more money for salaries and a fix to class size and composition problems.

The two sides are close on salary demands, but remain miles apart on class size and composition.

While the government has pledged about $75 million per year to help through the Learning Improvement Fund, the BCTF wants to see $225 million to hire new teachers and another $225 million to solve grievances around class size and composition.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender met with BCTF president Jim Iker and lead negotiator Peter Cameron on Wednesday. Fassbender proposed teachers set aside the matter of grievances, engage in mediation as soon as possible and suspend all strike action.

The BCTF executive was meeting Wednesday night to prepare a response and mediator Vice Ready was set to meet with both sides on Thursday morning to engage in exploratory talks.

For up-to-date information as this story develops check out www.coastreporter.net.


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