Premier Christy Clark’s first throne speech on Oct. 3, delivered by Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, included aspects dedicated to supporting education in the province.
The education ministry will increase funding for class composition to provide support for special-needs students in British Columbia’s public school classrooms.
The class composition issue has been a long-standing point of contention between the province and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), which has had no contract since it expired in June.
With no new contract agreement in sight, the BCTF enacted job action at the start of the school year and refused non-essential duties.
Education Minister George Abbott said two days after the throne speech that $165-million in class composition funding over a three-year period was submitted to the BCTF in a revised proposal.
The proposed Class Organization Fund would release $30 million the first year, $60 million in the second year and $75 million for the third year, Abbott said, and then would supply $75 million each year after that.
He indicated the tabled proposal would help teachers with “challenging” and “crucial” class-composition issues.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association (CCTA) president Joan Erb said the BCTF considers this amount a “pittance.”
“We cannot restore those class size numbers and specialty teacher ratios with that kind of money.
In 2002, when the collective agreement was stripped, the government saved $275 million that year and every other year after that because the teachers in the classroom were decreasing so drastically, she added.
“I have to support the BCTF in that $275 million needs to be put back into the school system; end of story. I’ve heard from the BCTF that there’s no negotiating that.”
The throne speech announced a series of changes to modernize and improve the skills of current teachers, and ensure that future teachers are provided with the tools they need to produce first-class graduates.
“Students need skills that will allow them to adapt to a world that is changing more quickly than ever before. These skills can be taught by our teachers, but not using a 20th century curriculum with 20th century teaching methods.”
It all “sounds great,” as everyone wants trained teachers and modern technology in the classroom, Erb said, but added she sees no recognition for the skills upgrading the teachers do on their own initiative, such as summer and online courses.
This appears to be the province pursuing control over which teachers are placed in the classrooms without following the rules of the collective agreement, she explained, and eliminate union member seniority.
Erb added she sees all the education components of Clark’s speech, as revolving around 21st Century learning.
“I suspect what it means is more computers and fewer teachers.”
Abbott said amendments are coming to the legislation governing the B.C. College of Teachers.
The college was reviewed by Victoria lawyer Don Avison last year, who reported BCTF influence had allowed teachers to return to classrooms after being convicted of serious crimes, including cocaine trafficking and sexual assault of students.
Erb said she generally agrees with the modernizing of the college, as it has been “falling apart,” if any future classroom changes are made in a collaborative effort with teachers, parents and students.