Painful Truth: Spend and save for cheap teachers


We’ve almost forgotten about the B.C. teachers strike, as it’s faded from our minds like a bad smell. But you can only spray on so much odour-masking gunk before it comes back, so let’s talk about ending the darn strike!

I have ideas about ways to save the province a little money and help out young teachers at the same time. You say I have no expertise in education or public policy? That is true. On the other hand, I could literally not do worse than the people who are actually negotiating right now.

No, really. They’re competing to see who can toss out the stupidest ideas.

The government has gone quiet on their most egregious suggestion: “Big classes are good for kids!” Yeah, like back in the 1930s! Having one teacher and a roomful of 50 students is a great formula for success. Let’s scrap all those computer classes while we’re at it, who needs modernity?

The teachers have been quite reasonable on wage demands, dipping a couple of times. And then they asked for $225 million a year for a “workload fund” to hire more teachers. Considering the government already hates the teachers (and the feeling is mutual) that seems more like waving a red flag in front of a fiscally conservative bull.

Opponents of the teachers are now painting them as wealthy fat cats. We’re to imagine teachers lazily dismissing their students at 3 p.m. so they can race to the country club in their jewel-encrusted Porsches, mink stoles whipping in the wind.

The reality is that teachers’ pay in B.C. starts as low as $38,000 and change a year. Which is not to be sneered at, but they also top out at just over $70,000. 

B.C. MLAs start at $101,000 a year. There is no minimum education requirement to become an MLA; teachers require years of university.

While the room to maneuver between the lower and higher end of the teacher pay scale may not be massive, it does suggest at least a partial solution to a couple of problems facing the province.

Right now, the government would like to save money, which is all well and good. 

And teachers in B.C. would like to have jobs, preferably full-time ones.

Which brings us to the second problem beyond mere cash – there are a lot of unemployed and underemployed teachers in B.C.

There are 69,400 people with valid teaching certificates in B.C., and just 30,101 full-time equivalent jobs in the school system.

About two to three times as many teachers are trained every year as there are jobs. Many teachers, both at the end of their careers and at the beginning, job share or stay on the teacher on-call lists as substitutes. This is not so great for new teachers trying to get a foot in the door – some of them only work four hours a week in classrooms.

So if the province wants to reduce its bills, why not offer the senior teachers buyouts? Offer a full year’s salary and benefits to teachers who are making more than $65,000. Some of them must be thinking of early retirement. Nudge ’em out at 60 instead of 65. 

Obviously, a buyout like this is an investment. It’ll cost you money in your first year. 

But this is the government we’re talking about, they borrow in bulk and they have the lowest interest rates around. And a conservative back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests if you can convince just 100 teachers making $65,000 or up to take the deal, over five years the province saves more than $6 million. 

As I mentioned, it will go at least partway to dealing with the vast number of expensively educated proto-teachers who are currently using their four or five years of university education to make nice lattes.

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