By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – Job action by teachers starting Wednesday will further pit parents against the educators and the government, says the chairman of a Parent Advisory Council at a Vancouver school.
Robert Ford said parents have had enough after 10 years of bitterness between both sides, which must negotiate a contract for the sake of students whose education is being impacted yet again.
“Can we just educate our children? We pay taxes for you to sort out the money stuff, not to continually hose us with budget cuts and teachers’ strikes,” Ford said Tuesday.
“They’re done, they’re baked, they’re cooked,” Ford said of parents. “Most of them have tuned out. Nobody’s focused on the parents’ stress, the stress on the kids, who are the two primary consumers in the education system.”
The B.C. Teachers Federation said it’s being forced to take job action because of the slow pace of negotiations after its members’ contract expired last June.
Contract talks are continuing as the government appeals a court ruling that awarded the union $2 million in damages in January and declared the province’s removal of class size and composition from contract negotiations unconstitutional.
The court case dates back to 2002, when the B.C. government used legislation to remove those provisions from the collective agreement and barred them from future negotiations. A court ruling in 2011 said the law was unconstitutional but the government introduced similar legislation the following year, leading to the second version being struck down earlier this year.
“Isn’t that the 900-pound pink elephant in the room?” Ford said Tuesday of the recent court ruling before both sides continued trying to negotiate a contract that he said seemed unlikely to be signed any time soon.
B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker said the union is trying to pressure the government by staging the first phase of strike action, where teachers will refuse to supervise students outside the classroom or communicate in writing with principals and other administrators.
Iker wouldn’t say how long the initial phase would last, but said lack of progress at the bargaining table will lead to rotating strikes across the province, with 48 hours’ notice.
He said the 41,000-member union won’t budge from its demands for smaller class sizes, especially with the recent court decision in its favour.
“I’ve taught in small classes, I’ve taught in large classes and there’s nothing like teaching in smaller classes,” said Iker, a former primary teacher.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender suggested class size is not a predictor for student success though he said the government will continue negotiating the issue as the court appeal is underway.
“We’ve looked at research around the world that has been done extensively on whether or not class size really translates to better outcomes and the reality is that research says that that’s not one of the prerequisites,” he said.
“The quality of teaching in a classroom and the quality of the teacher is one of the major factors,” he said, adding class sizes are the lowest they’ve ever been in the province.
He said there are an average 18 students per class, though drama, music and physical education classes are bigger.
Wages are another contentious issue during negotiations, with the government offering a 6.25 per cent hike while teachers want a nine-per-cent jump, plus a cost-of-living increase, which Fassbender said will amount to an untenable 13.5 per cent raise over three years.
“The BCTF proposal is out of step with the rest of the public-sector unions and there are a number of other elements that have financial implications,” Fassbender said. “We have to keep the interests of the taxpayers in mind as well.”
Iker said B.C. teachers earn the lowest salaries compared to their counterparts in most provinces and it’s time the government increased their salaries.
Fassbender said B.C. teachers’ benefits make up for wages elsewhere though he couldn’t provide specifics and Iker maintained union members’ benefits still don’t bring their salaries in line with teachers in other jurisdictions.