Disputes cast shadow on school year

Education disputes

A work-to-rule campaign by public school teachers, set to begin on the first day of school, is only one dispute expected in education in the coming year.

The British Columbia Teachers Federation confirmed Aug. 31 it will file strike notice to take effect Tuesday (Sept. 6) morning. The BCTF says phase 1 will be to refuse administrative duties, such as meeting with principals, supervising playgrounds and writing report cards.

The union and the employers’ association are far apart on a range of issues, including salary and a list of benefit improvements sought by the BCTF.

One major point in dispute is the meaning of a B.C. Supreme Court decision handed down this spring on the government’s 2002 removal of class size and composition from teacher bargaining. BCTF president Susan Lambert explained the decision means the government must add $336 million to the public school budget to guarantee a level of service.

“Teachers are determined in this round of bargaining to regain those lost services, jobs and resources to meet students’ needs.” Education Minister George Abbott has repeatedly said any settlement must fit with the government’s “net zero” mandate that other public service unions have already accepted. In an interview Aug. 31, Abbott added the BCTF is demanding “restoration of the world as it existed in 2001, and once that’s done, then they’ll start talking.”

He noted the court does not prescribe an outcome, but gives the two sides a year to work out a compromise.

On another long-running dispute, Abbott said he hopes to have amendments ready for the fall legislature session to revamp the B.C. College of Teachers. He said the current system still allows teachers who have complaints against them to surrender their teaching certificate, avoid a disciplinary record, and then get reinstated to teach in a different district later on.

A review of the college last year by Victoria lawyer Don Avison found that even teachers with criminal convictions, including one case of sexual assault of students and another of cocaine trafficking, were able to resume teaching.

A bright spot for the new school year is the completion of B.C.’s full-day kindergarten project, which is now available province-wide. There are 37,000 kindergarten students expected to enrol in the program, after a $150-million investment in classrooms and an operating budget expanded to $345 million.

Abbott said some parents were apprehensive about putting five-year-olds into a full-day school program, but the pilot program last year was well received.

“It was remarkable how the kids embraced play-based learning that is a part of the kindergarten program.”