Legislation to end teacher’s dispute

Legislation passage dashed all hope of negotiated settlement

Joan Erb

Joan Erb

The B.C. Liberal government passed Bill 22 in legislature on March 15 and dashed the public teachers’ labour dispute headed by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president Joan Erb says the passing of Bill 22 was a “very dismal day” for all unions in the province.”

“It means we have no control whatsoever over how many kids we have in our class.”

Restrictions on class size and special needs support are imposed with deviations approved by the district administration, but these issues won’t be allowed in negotiations between the BCTF and school districts.

With past criteria tightening for special-needs students invalidating aspects, such as severe behavioural problems, Erb says Bill 22 leaves even less attention for the unchecked numbers of those children in the classroom.

The bill authorizes Education Minister George Abbott to appoint a mediator to find a settlement restricted under the net-zero public sector wage mandate during a six-month “cooling off” period.

Abbott says he will write to both the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) to ask they submit names to be considered as potential mediators.

“Now that Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, has been passed by the legislature and a mediator will soon be appointed, it’s time for everyone involved to pause and reflect on how we can work together to continue to improve our education system,” Abbott says.

BCTF president Susan Lambert notes teachers know the B.C. Liberal government’s “so-called” Education Improvement Act is going to have the opposite effect in classrooms, and will further diminish services to students with special needs.

Lambert also questions why the government is engaged in an extensive advertising campaign while the education budget is frozen.

“You have to wonder why the education ministry would spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign to attack its own public school teachers…. It’s these very teachers who have maintained the quality of our public education system in the face of government neglect and under funding.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the bill ensures there will be discussion, collaboration and agreement toward the best decisions for individual students, rather than arbitrary, formula-driven decisions.

She adds the class-size cap for Grades K-3 is unchanged, and Grades 4-12 has a maximum class size of 30 students. Barnett notes the decision must be approved by the district superintendent of schools.

“In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, I met with the school board and apparently we have no class size over 30.”

It was time for the B.C. Liberal government to step into the negotiation stalemate, she adds, as the education system has to move on.

“This is not about teachers; this is about unions. This is about organizations that had 78 meetings and they couldn’t come to some conclusions.”

Bill 22, The Education Improvement Act is available online at www.leg.bc.ca/39th4th/1st_read/gov22-1.htm.

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