Students across the West Shore and Sooke could have smaller classes and more educators if the Ministry of Education abides by this week’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling.
The court reaffirmed that the government acted illegally and unconstitutionally when it removed class size, class composition and support staff ratios from the teachers’ collective agreement in 2002.
“The court concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision,” Justice Susan Griffin wrote, referring to the 2002 law.
“One of the problems was … their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.”
“It goes to the heart of what we’ve been saying: public education has been grossly underfunded since the cuts, and there has been a direct impact on classrooms and delivering quality education,” said Ian Johnson, president of the Sooke School Teachers’ Association.
It’s too early to know the full implications of the ruling, but Johnson expects complying with all aspects of the 2002 collective agreement would be expensive.
“Impact to the district could be substantial, depending how it’s funded,” he said. “Whether the pay burden is on the district or more money is channeled through the Ministry of Education will be the big question, but it will be costly.”
SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge said the district is compliant with legislation in terms of class sizes, but under the 2002 collective agreement, problems would arise at schools like Lakewood and Happy Valley.
“If class size were reduced, we’d have to move kids out of those schools,” Cambridge said.
“If the class size of 2002 is implemented again … some class sizes would be bigger and some smaller, mostly smaller,” he said. ”But it was different for every district in the province in 2002. It wasn’t common, it was locally bargained.”
SD62 might be in compliance now, but under the rules from 12 years ago, Johnson said he’s aware of dozens of violations “relative to the 2002 class sizes.”
Class composition too is critical, he said, which dictates the number of special needs students a teacher can oversee.
“There has been some effort in our district to keep class size at 30, but that doesn’t speak to composition. A class might be at 30, but there’s nothing to preclude … having six or more special needs students who need more intensive instruction,” Johnson said.
Cambridge doubts the current ministry funding model could fund smaller class sizes and more support staff, such as librarians and support teachers.
The B.C. government is considering an appeal of the ruling.
“It doesn’t reflect government’s view of the case and the facts in the case,” Premier Christy Clark told a Kamloops radio station Tuesday.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he is “disappointed” by the ruling, and ministry staff will study it before deciding on a possible appeal.
-with files from Tom Fletcher