Teachers are rallying throughout Kamloops this week and walking out on extracurricular activities in a last ditch attempt to draw support while the B.C. Liberals vow to use its majority government to push through back-to-work legislature.
“We’re still hoping for a good resolution, one that benefits students and teachers,” said Giovanna Rondinelli of South Kamloops Secondary amid a din of honking car horns during Monday’s half-hour teacher rally at the corner of Summit Drive and Columbia Street.
“If teachers are not doing the extracurricular work it shows the minimum system, what the government is willing to fund,” said Peter Nelson, Sa-Hali Secondary teacher.
“We’re hoping that the parents will not be happy with that, because that’s not what we want to do. We want the parents to talk to the MLAs and the MLAs to talk to their government to fund education.”
British Columbia’s Liberal government is pushing through Bill 22, ensuring it becomes law by Thursday afternoon. But Nelson suggested legislation would not silence the teachers.
“Even if they pass Bill 22 we’re not going to be done,” said Nelson.
Liberal house leader Rich Coleman announced Monday that the government will use time-allocation rules to speed up debate on the bill, which prevents any further strikes or lockouts and appoints a mediator, who has until the end of August to find a settlement.
The Opposition New Democrats signalled they planned to extend debate with amendments that called for the appointment of an independent mediator.
Coleman said the Liberal moves ensure debate on second reading of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, which started last week, ends Monday evening, and the bill becomes law Thursday. The legislature will sit late on Tuesday or Wednesday night, but debate will end Thursday at 4:45 p.m., Coleman said.
“We want the bill done by Thursday,” said Coleman.
The government tabled the legislation, which prevents strikes or lockouts and appoints a mediator, amid a heated labour dispute with its teachers that culminated in a three-day walkout last week.
“We’ve had six days of debate on second reading. We did the entire Family Law Act, which has probably 15 times more sections than this bill has, in four days.”
Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association members voted on Friday evening to stop volunteering for extracurricular activities such as band, drama, tutoring and coaching. It was a difficult decision that was debated for more than an hour and a half before consensus was reached, said KTTA president Jason Karpuk.
Karpuk declined to comment on whether teachers would be sanctioned if they continued to volunteer despite the vote.
Teachers rallying on Monday kept a united front.
“Whatever happens it’s a collective decision,” said Rondinelli.
And they also agreed that it was a difficult decision.
“We thrive on extracurricular and it’s really hard not to give it but I think we have to take a stand,” said Jaymi Daniels, a band teacher at Sa-Hali Secondary.
She said she’s unsure what that stand will mean for the music program, but it will be “hard to organize” performances.
“My program relies on extracurricular activities. I only teach my kids in the timetable twice a week for 45 minutes. That’s not enough.”
Kamloops-Thompson Supt. Terry Sullivan has said there’s just too much teacher volunteerism for the work to be covered off by district administrative staff.
During the Monday evening school board meeting, Sullivan said the district didn’t intend to cancel extracurricular activities. He said the board would be prioritizing the list of events needing support in the coming weeks, and he put out a call to parents and the community to help by stepping in where teachers left off.
“Extracurriculars don’t only involve athletics. There are overnight trips, graduation, concerts, heritage fair, science fair, there a long list of activities involved,” said Sullivan.
“We are going to try to do our best within these constraints to minimize the impact on students, but we can only do that if we can depend on some support from parents and the community.”
Education Minister George Abbott has said earlier that if the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement by the end of the summer, the government will likely impose a contract.
A government report released last month said the teachers and their employer were still far apart, and a negotiated settlement was unlikely.
The province’s more than 41,000 teachers staged a legal three-day walkout last week to protest Bill 22 and press their demands for wage increases, despite the government’s insistence there can be no wage increases unless teachers agree to offset them with concessions elsewhere in their contract.