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Teachers’ union livid after province announces it will appeal recent B.C. Supreme Court decision
Minister of Education Peter Fassbender announced Tuesday the provincial government and his ministry will appeal last week’s B.C. Supreme Court decision that called the government’s negotiations with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation over the past several years unconstitutional.
BCTF president Jim Iker called the government’s decision to appeal “sad, disappointing but entirely predictable from a government that cannot be trusted to put education before politics.”
“By announcing their intent to appeal B.C. teachers’ important and historic court victory, Christy Clark’s government has shown they think they are above the law.”
Justice Susan Griffin ruled last week that the provincial government deliberately tried to provide a strike with the BCTF and fined the Ministry of Education $2 million.
The government conspired to shut B.C. schools down and wreaked havoc with the lives of millions of students and parents and should be embarrassed by the court ruling, yet they choose to appeal, which will make most British Columbians very angry, said Iker.
The long-running dispute centres around Bill 28, which stripped teachers of their right to negotiate around issues including class size and composition. That original legislation was struck down in 2011 as unconstitutional and Justice Griffin gave the government a year to remedy the problem. The government introduced a new law in 2012 and the union went back to court.
In her ruling last week, Justice Griffin found the new law to be “virtually identical” and concluded bargaining between the government and the teachers’ federation to be in bad faith.
Fassbender defended the government’s decision to appeal the latest ruling with a prepared statement released Tuesday afternoon.
“On Jan. 27, the B.C. Supreme Court released its decision on whether the Education Improvement Act, 2012, and the consultation process that preceded it, was an adequate response to a previous court ruling that the government had infringed the freedom of association of BCTF members when it legislated specific provisions out of the teachers’ contract back in 2002.
“The case focused on public-sector union bargaining rights and Justice Griffin’s interpretation of how these rights limit the ability of elected governments to set education policy. The judgment centred on the union’s interests, not students’ needs.
“It is the BCTF’s job to defend its members’ interests and has done so with passion and vigor. But it is government’s responsibility to balance those interests against the best interests of students, their families, and the 4.6 million British Columbians who already invest nearly $5 billion into the K-12 education every year.
“That is what our government has always done and will continue to do — and that is why we will appeal Justice Griffin’s decision.
“From a legal perspective, government has a different interpretation of prior Supreme Court of Canada decisions related to freedom of association than was outlined in the judgment. The government acknowledges that all individuals in Canada have a protected freedom to associate, but we do not agree this gives the BCTF the ability to override government’s duty to make fiscal and policy decisions in the public interest.
“In practical terms, the judgment is completely unaffordable for taxpayers. It would create huge disruptions in our schools and, most importantly, it will prevent districts from providing the right mix of supports that our students actually need.
“We are proud of our track record in education and we intend to build on it. Over the past 13 years, we’ve increased annual funding by $1 billion, even while student enrolment has declined by an unprecedented 9.4 per cent. Student success rates have increased and on major international assessments, British Columbia students rank among the very best in the world.
“Over the past eight years, the number of classes with more than 30 students has dropped by 88 per cent. Less than two per cent of classrooms have more than 30 students, and of these, the vast majority are in subjects like band, drama and gym where larger numbers are beneficial and intentional.
“In fact, at 18 to one, the full-time equivalent student-teacher ratio is exactly the same today as it was before the disputed changes to the collective agreement were made in 2002. It is just that we organize our classrooms far more effectively today.
“The union, however, is seeking to further reduce teacher workload and manage classrooms through rigid and costly formulas and ratios that have no material bearing on the actual needs of students in the classroom.
“No other jurisdictions in Canada face these types of restrictions on school organization. Most importantly, if the real goal is to benefit students, decades of academic research has shown that blanket reductions in class size are of little benefit. Instead, our priorities must remain focused on complex classes where student supports are truly needed, expanding innovative learning opportunities across the board, and working to enhance teacher quality.
“Class composition must be carefully managed each and every year. But it requires informed professional judgment and discretion. Instead of rigid formulas and ratios, the most effective solution is to provide classroom teachers and school administrators with a stronger voice in allocating resources based on the unique needs of every classroom.
“Parents and students want this issue resolved. And that’s what government wants as well. But a successful outcome will require the BCTF to work with government to do what every other public-sector union has been able to do, which is to work with employers to make the workplace better and operations more efficient.”
“B.C.’s students are doing well because they have great teachers. Imagine how much better they could be doing if we were to achieve true collaboration at the bargaining table.”
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES