The B. C. Liberal government’s move to push Bill 22 through legislature has dashed the hopes of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) for a negotiated settlement.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president Joan Erb says the passing of Bill 22 will be a “very dismal day” for all unions in the province.
“I remain very concerned about the abolition of Bill 33; that scares the daylights out of me. It means we have no control whatsoever over how many kids we have in our class.”
The bill will authorize 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.
Restrictions on class size and special needs support are imposed with deviations approved by the principal and superintendent, but these issues won’t be allowed in negotiations between the BCTF and school districts.
“If the superintendent decides that a class of 35 with seven IEPs [Individual Education Plans] is a sound learning environment, then regardless of how I feel as a teacher, it’s going to be 35 and seven IEPs.”
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.
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.
“The maximum can be exceeded only if there is a band or a choir where it may be more advantageous to have a couple of more students, but the decision must be approved by the district superintendent, so it’s not something that can just happen. 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.
“I support Bill 22 because we have 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.”
Barnett says taxpayers have told her unequivocally that “enough is enough” and they are not willing to accept any more taxation.
“If we did not learn that lesson with the HST [Harmonized Sales Tax], then we all have a problem.”