School District 53 trustees voice their frustration with ongoing teachers’ strike

By on June 25, 2014
Teachers and supporters were picketing Tuesday at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

Teachers and supporters were picketing at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

As a mediator is being sought to resolve the teachers’ strike, local school trustees are expressing their frustration with the impasse.

“I do think people are tired of this constant conflict on both sides of the table,” said trustee Tamela Edwards.

As a parent, she is disappointed that negotiations between the British Columbia Teachers Federation and British Columbia Public Service Employees’ Association (BCPSEA) resulted in job restrictions and a full walkout that directly impacted students.

More than 40,000 B.C. public school teachers hit the picket lines across the province last Tuesday morning.

“As we all know those final couple of weeks of instruction, final exams and report card preparation is very important, especially for those students planning on heading to post-secondary institutions this coming fall.”

Edwards said she understands the desire to have smaller class sizes and more special needs support. She too would like to see improvements in these areas, but she doesn’t see this being resolved with this strike.

Edwards said she believes teachers have the right to negotiate a wage increase that reflects the cost of living.

“Our teachers bring a high level of professionalism, education, passion, creativity and dedication to the classroom and beyond.”

Osoyoos school trustee June Harrington said she supports teachers and values their hard work and what they contribute.

“I feel distressed about the strike because our students inevitably pay the price in that they lose invaluable instructional time and support.”

Harrington said she believes teachers should have an increase in wages and that a new compromise is needed on class size and composition (including support for special needs).

This has to be fully funded by government, she pointed out.

The BCTF was hoping to have veteran mediator Vince Ready settle the dispute, but he is unavailable. Now they are seeking another mediator.

In the meantime, school is winding down for the summer. Unfortunately, the district’s summer reading program (Read and Rec, Rhyme and Rec, etc.) has been cancelled.

This is a concern for many parents as their children need the extra help before starting school again in September.

School trustee Rob Zandee agreed the strike has led to valuable learning time being lost.

“From what parents are telling me, there is frustration directed at both sides,” he said.

Sadly, since 1986, there has only been one negotiated settlement between these two parties, Zandee pointed out.

Regarding the issues, the trustee said School District 53 has some of the smallest average class sizes in the province.

“There are some very successful systems in the world that have larger classes than we do, and there are some very successful systems that have smaller sizes.”

Zandee said special needs support has really increased in the last few years.

“With inclusion in the classroom, it really is a necessity. Could there be more support? Sure.”

The trustee said CUPE support staff, including education assistants (EAs), have already settled with the government.

Zandee questioned whether the BCTF would reduce their wage demands and give that to EAs and support staff whom some feel have received “scraps” in the past.

“Administrators have also had a 10-year wage freeze. Rarely is this mentioned.”

Zandee said the province spends approximately two-thirds of the annual provincial budget on health care and education. As B.C.’s population demographic is moving to a larger, older population, spending in health care will rise as that happens, he noted.

Zandee said people deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. But who decides what is fair?

“Is it fair that police and the armed forces who protect us and allow us our freedoms are paid less than others who do not put themselves in harm’s way?”

And what about farmers? he asked.

The trustee said people have no problem paying $4 or $5 for their specialty coffee addiction, but won’t pay that for a dozen farm fresh eggs.

School trustee Sam Hancheroff said he is extremely frustrated and disappointed with the lack of progress in the bargaining process demonstrated between the provincial government and the BCTF.

“This is a very unfortunate end to our school year and it has left many of our students in limbo.”

The trustee has spoken to a number of parents, all of whom are expressing similar frustration.

“Many parents are supportive of the teachers, believing that it is appropriate for them to have an increase that is fair to their profession.”

Hancheroff said parents also believe that special needs children should be supported, and that class composition is an important factor.

He noted the district strives to meet the diverse learning needs of every student.

Hancheroff said all schools require an adequate number of special education assistants to help support children who need extra help.

Assistant superintendent of schools Jim Insley confirmed summer reading classes have been cancelled because there was no guarantee that the sites wouldn’t be picketed or that teachers would take part.

“We are very disappointed as these programs give the most vulnerable students a chance to acquire essential skills and to get closer to expected reading levels,” Insley said.

He noted the program gives children a better chance of being successful in subsequent grades.

“I was hoping that we would be able to hold the programs despite the strike as the extra time they provide for learning will not be made up.”

Insley said this creates further challenges for teachers and schools to find other ways to support these students in their learning in the coming years.

Late last week, Peter Fassbender, the Minister of Education, said the sides were further apart than they have been in some time after the BCTF tabled an updated offer that Fassbender described as “unreasonable and unaffordable” and totally unacceptable for provincial taxpayers.

No new talks have been scheduled between the parties as of Tuesday.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

 

 

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