BC Teacher’s Federation Concerned by Government’s Proposed Ten-Year Framework

Lynsey Kitching
 
The ongoing turmoil between teachers and the government is a national issue here in Canada, and has been for years.
 
The latest chapter to this never-ending battle is based around the new ten year framework proposed by the BC government for teachers. “The goal of a ten year agreement is simple and ambitious—give Grade two students a chance to go their entire school career without a disruption,” says Premier Christy Clark. “Imagine the opportunities for students, parents and teachers in the classroom knowing classrooms would always be open. We need to work closely with teachers on our shared goal of improving BC’s education system, and we’re prepared to make some fundamental changes that put students first. This isn’t about the adults—it’s about what’s best for students.”
 
The BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) disagrees this ten year proposal will achieve this. President for Local 591 Lorraine Mackay says “the government will tell you they have the highest funding ever for education, and if you are looking at a straight dollar amount, they are correct. The problem is a dollar now buys a lot less than a dollar ten years ago. So they haven’t kept up with inflation. Although they can say ‘we’ve given you lots of money,’ the fact is, the money they give us now doesn’t cover the cost of gas, heating the building, busing and teachers’ salaries, all of those things that happen. At the same time we have fewer students in the schools and we’re funded on a per student amount. So if you have fewer students in the school and you have inflation happening, even if they give you more money it doesn’t go as far. That’s one of the problems we are facing across the province.”
 
In return for the ten year framework the government is offering teachers a formal role in education policy decisions, a voice in allocating a $100-million Priority Education Investment Fund, available in the third year of an agreement and salary certainty and fairness by indexing public school teacher salaries to increases in the BC public sector.
 
Mackay says, “One of the real things we are concerned about is there doesn’t look like there is anything to address class size/composition. They talk about that there could be up to 100 million dollars, but no money until the third year. Then it has to be decided by the stakeholders and there is nothing that outlines how that decision making will take place.”
 
The framework not discussing how teachers can negotiate class size goes against their court victory against Bill 22.
 
“Ten years is an exceptionally long time. Most contracts are three years. We’re concerned about how they are talking about increases based against the public sector. They get to choose who they are comparing us to. If we would like to compare ourselves to teachers in other provinces, they want to choose who in BC we will be compared to. That’s a concern, especially when we have a government with a net zero policy for a number of years,” worries Mackay.
 
The biggest concern for the BCTF is the teacher reality that there just isn’t enough funding for students. “The problem is there is just no money for the education system. The $100 million doesn’t kick in for another three years, and it means that children will not be getting the services in the schools. If the funding was still the same now as it was around 2000, then we would have 6,000 more teachers in the schools. At one point, BC had the lowest educator to student ratio in the country, and now we have one of the highest. One teacher is teaching more kids in BC than in just about any other province in Canada.”
 
This proposal came as a big shock to the BCTF because they have recently ratified the Framework Agreement on the 2013 round of collective bargaining reached with the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA).
 
“It’s a significant step in the right direction, a productive move that will help facilitate negotiations,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “We genuinely hope that the BCPSEA board will also ratify the agreement and that both parties undertake the responsibilities of negotiations regardless of the government’s interference earlier this week.”
 
The agreement spells out a timeline and other elements to facilitate negotiations and improve communications in this round. The key elements of the agreement are that bargaining began on February 4, 2013, and proposals will be exchanged as soon as possible, but no later than March 1, 2013; that they will appoint a mutually agreed-to facilitator to assist with all matters of collective bargaining from the outset of bargaining. The cost of the facilitator will be shared equally by the parties; that they will develop a common data study to reach agreement on the costing of items brought to the table and on the split of which issues would be negotiated at a provincial table and which at local tables.
 
“This agreement will bring an early and positive start to bargaining,” Lambert says continuing, “And with the good will on both sides that this heralds, we hope to reach a collective agreement before the end of the school year and the expiry of the current contract.”
 
Having a facilitator, means nothing is binding, but there will be a third party everyone has agreed to, who will be part of the process. Mackay says, “This is something that came about before Christmas, so we were actually quite hopeful that we would have a good round of negotiations this time, and then we saw we have this announcement that the government is planning on our contract being for ten years.”
 
Mackay explains this proposal from the government is shocking as well as slightly concerning. She says, “We are very surprised. One of our concerns is that we had no time and no discussion with the government, before they released it to the media. Which is quite a concern when you are considering the government is proposing this will turn bargaining around in our province. They talk about mistrust on the teacher’s part and the government’s part and if anything this document makes us more concerned or fearful of what it is the government is expecting in this contract.”
 
The number of public schools in BC has decreased from 1,663 in 2005-2006 to 1,604 in 2011-2012. Since 2001 there has been an 11 percent decrease in schools province-wide.