Local ED board supports teachers rights to negotiate despite Bill 22

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
March 18th, 2012

Trustees of School District 51 Boundary Board of Education voted in favour of sending a letter to the B.C. government asking for free collective bargaining for all teachers during their regular monthly board meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 13.

Although the intent may now seem mute in light of Bill 22 passing, their opinions on the matter are not. Norm Sabourin, president of the Boundary District Teachers Association,  said the board’s unanimous support for local teachers is a “morale booster” .

“Previous boards would not have done this. It is a big step for us to have the board support us,” said Sabourin just hours before the BCTF AGM started. “It is a small emotional boost for us in a terrible time.”

The B.C. legislature passed Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, on Thursday, March 15, suspending teachers’s strike action and appointing a mediator to help negotiate an agreement.

According to a news release posted by the provincial government late Thursday, a cooling off period between both parties started Saturday, Mar. 17.

Just days before the legislation passed, trustee Dave Reid made the motion to write the letter to the Minister of Education George Abbott in support of free collective bargaining.

“I don’t agree with the bargaining tactics on either side,” Reid told the board. “I do agree with the principal that we should be able to bargain.”

“If we’re moving into the 21st century and we’re loading up class sizes, we’re moving back into the 19th century,” said trustee Ken Harshenin.

Board chair, Teresa Rezansoff, stepped down from chairing the meeting due to conflict of interest in the discussion — her daughter is a teacher — and handed the reins over to Cathy Riddle.

“We have walls built around free collective bargaining right now,” said Harshenin. “To have free collective bargaining we have to remove those walls. Right now the walls are in place. You can bargain but here are the parameters within these walls. If you have these parameters it is not free collective bargaining.”

Trustees felt the current bargaining process benefits no one.

“We want to continue to be apart of the negotiation process,” said trustee Vicki Gee. “We’ve been cut out too, not just the teachers.”

School superintendent, Michael Strukoff cautioned the board based on past experiences.

“I think we have to be careful what we ask for,” he said during the meeting. “We’ve been in this position before when the government has given raises and then we don’t get the money to cover it. If they give a lift there will be an increase in salary costs. How will we pay for that? … I think we’re a small district at the mercy of big union, big labour and big government and it’s happening all aroudn us and we’re taking time out of our valuable efforts of running the district into this political field with the letter and I’m not sure what it can accomplish.”

“This is a board opinion and I think this is a good example of the difference between management and the issues they deal with and the board and the more political issues they deal with,” said Gee. “That’s why we’re here.”

Sabourin stood up in front of the board during the question period of the meeting and sincerely thanked them for supporting local teachers. As did Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) president Janet Thorpe.

Sabourin said the letter on it’s own may not make a difference at the provinicial level, but if all 60 provincial school districts sent in letters, other partner groups and even parents, it could make a difference.

“Those single drops of rain could create a flowing river,” he said.

Bill 22 and the Boundary region

Bill 22 brings many changes to it but many of those changes won’t be felt as much in this school district as it may be in others, said Boundary Education Board chair, Teresa Rezansoff.

Our school district has been below the provincial class size average over the past three years, she and Michael Strukoff, superintendent, told the board during a presentation about Bill 22 at the regular board meeting Tuesday, March 13.

Rezansoff also pointed out that while the composition of classrooms, like the number of special needs students within them, will no longer be legislated as they were under Bill 33, this district will consider teacher advisement before making changes.

“Principals will still have the duty to consult and teachers will have the duty to advise on class composition of classes and placement of the students,” said Rezansoff.

There will be no specific reporting requirements on class sizes as they are now on a monthly basis. However, she said the minister can request those numbers from a school district at any time. Class sizes and composition will return to the bargaining table for 2013, according to the government report Rezansoff was presenting.

One significant change is more work for more pay. If a class has more than 30 students, teachers will be paid $2,500 per extra student per year in elementary and $300 per block per student in secondary. That can be taken in forms other than money, professional development, supplies or time.

Administrative routines may also change to accomodate the new bill. The Learning Improvement Fund money is an unknown amount at this time for this district.

The fund is $165 million over three years that will be used to help school districts and teachers address classroom composition issues. In the fall $30 million of that money will be given to classrooms with the greatest need, with an increase of $60 million the following year and $75 million every year after that.

Province’s process includes mediation

A mediator will be appointed from a list of submitted names by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA). The lists are to be submitted to the Education Minister George Abbott by Monday, March 26.

According to the government, the new Bill 22 will not impose a new contract. It will extend the contract over the mediation period. If a new agreement cannot be reached by June 30, the mediator will make a non-binding recommendation to government.

The province’s 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since June 2011.

The BCTF is having their Annual General Meeting beginning Saturday, March 17 and running until Tuesday March 20 at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver where they will be discussing what their new plan of action will be in light of Bill 22. All meetings discussing Bill 22 are closed to the media.

“Teachers are completely disallusioned with this bill and the government,” said Sabourin, while awaiting the start of the meeting on Saturday morning.

“Teachers just want to be treated fairly… There is nothing cool about this cooling off period. This is not the way a government should operate.”

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