Letter: Government`s job is balancing teachers with trustees and children

Dear Editor,

In 1998, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) failed to convince school trustees that entrenching rigid ratios and formulas in the provincial contract was the right thing to do for students or the education system.

The BCTF then left the bargaining table and struck a special deal with former NDP premier Glen Clark, who imposed these formulas through legislation, against the overwhelming opposition of trustees.

Fifty-six of the then 60 school boards voted to reject this backroom deal which increased teacher compensation by 11 per cent and reduced the ability of trustees to manage their districts.

A few years later, the citizens of B.C. elected a new government that sought to remove the rigid contract provisions by the same means they were put in – through legislation.

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that government had not followed a proper process with the BCTF prior to doing so in 2002.

Government accepted that decision and spent a year trying to resolve the matter through consultation with the BCTF.

Now Justice Griffin has decided that the government’s efforts fell short.

We are appealing that decision.

From a legal perspective, we agree that Canadians have a protected freedom to associate, but we do not agree this gives the BCTF the power to override government’s duty to make fiscal and policy decisions in the public interest.

Returning to rigid union ratios and formulas will create huge disruptions in our schools, and most importantly, it will prevent districts from providing the kinds of varied supports students actually need.

It is the BCTF’s job to defend its members’ interests – but it is also government’s responsibility to balance those interests against the needs of students, their families, and taxpayers who invest nearly $5 billion in K-12 education every year.

Over the past 13 years, we’ve increased annual education funding by $1 billion, even while enrolment has declined by 9.4 per cent.

Student success rates have increased, and B.C. students rank among the very best in the world.

We’ve also increased supports for students with special needs, including a 36 per cent increase in the number of full-time education assistants.

Average class sizes are near historical lows of 19.3 students for kindergarten, 21.5 for grades 1 to 3, 25.7 for grades 4 to 7, and 23.0 for grades 8 to 12.

Instead of rigid formulas, we must build on successful approaches – like the $210-million Learning Improvement Fund – that give flexibility to teachers and principals to allocate resources where they are actually needed.  

Last year, the fund was used to hire 500 new teachers and 400 new special education assistants and increase the hours for 7,400 special education assistants to help kids who need extra help get it.

Class size and composition are on the bargaining table, and that is where the discussion needs to occur.

Negotiations with the BCTF will continue, and our goal remains a 10-year agreement that creates labour stability for students, parents, teachers, and communities.  

Parents and students want this issue resolved. And that’s what government wants, as well.

Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education

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