School District No. 46 (SD46) trustees are sending a letter to the Minister of Education urging him to resolve problems with teachers at the bargaining table, to "fully fund" any increases needed and to ensure stability for students throughout the process.
Trustee Dave Mewhort made a motion to draft and send the letter during the March 11 board meeting.
"Legislated, imposed settlements have shown time and time again that they resolve the problem, sort of, in the short term, but all the disagreements and problems are still there festering, and morale goes down. I think its important to let the process take its course," Mewhort said.
If that process ends with increases in the teachers' contract, Mewhort said the money would have to be found at the provincial level.
"The government as we know has a wonderful way of agreeing to changes and then expecting boards to find it in their budgets," he said. "It happened with CUPE and it can't happen again. We're too thin, we're too stripped to the bone and I think it's very important we come out very strongly and say that this needs to be fully funded. Not fully funded by them saying 'find it somewhere in your current operating budget,' but fully funded with new money."
Trustee Lori Dixon agreed.
"I know it's obvious, but we have to keep telling them," she noted.
Mewhort also brought up the issue of stability for students in light of the recent vote by teachers to strike in various phases if progress isn't made at the bargaining table.
"We're hearing talks of a phase one strike. We're hearing talks of possible responses and I think it's important to restate that it's the students who suffer through all of this and I would like for all the parties, and in this case we're writing the Minister, to put the stability of our students first when they think about responses," Mewhort said. "I think it's very important that we don't have a prolonged period of phase one strike action with difficult supervision in the yards and a lack of extracurricular activities, etc., so I would ask for your support."
All the trustees agreed with Mewhort's position and voted unanimously to draft the letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender.
Teachers across B.C. voted 89 per cent in favour of striking last week if progress isn't made at the bargaining table.
Teachers have 90 days from the date of their affirmative strike vote (March 6) to enact a strike. B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) president Jim Iker said the first phase would have little impact on students.
"Any initial job action will be administrative in nature and have no impact on our students' learning," Iker said. "If at some point talks stall or government does not move on key areas, that initial job action could escalate into rotating strikes. Once again, it depends on the developments at the negotiating table."
Fassbender responded by saying the instability and uncertainty caused by a strike vote is something his government is trying to avoid by pursuing "a long-term agreement at the bargaining table."
"We will continue to seek a long-term agreement that's fair for teachers, affordable for taxpayers, and that puts the interests of students first," Fassbender said.
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