Education proposal creates frayed nerves

Premier makes proposal for 10 years of labour peace with teachers

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
January 24, 2013 01:00 AM

Premier Christy Clark

Whatever proposal Premier Christy Clark has for long-term stability in education, it's been put together without consulting teachers, school trustees and district administrators.

Which caused the head of the B.C. Teachers' Federation to speculate Wednesday that Clark intends to go ahead with a 10-year labour deal she proposed in the fall.

Trustees, on the other hand, hoped the premier would instead reveal a new funding formula, which school board chairwoman Denise Harper believes is the only way to ensure stability.

"The funding formula isn't working and there needs to be a change," said Harper. "If the funding formula could be changed so that we knew for certain, without any question, our funding, that would be splendid."

B.C.'s premier said Thursday she is proposing a 10-year teachers' contract in hopes of preventing labour acrimony from spilling into classrooms, but Clark added she expects opposition to the proposal that would benefit students and educators.

Clark said a spirit of co-operation is needed for the deal that means a Grade 2 student could graduate high school without the disruptions that have plagued public education in the province for decades.

Such an agreement would allow teachers to go on strike and index teachers' salaries to increases given to nurses, college faculty and other public-sector employees.

A proposed education policy council that would resolve issues such as professional development away from the bargaining table would include the government, school trustees and the teachers' union.

The contract would also provide $100 million for an education investment fund and allow teachers a say in how the money is used in classrooms.

Education Minister Don McRae, a teacher, said labour woes have caused instability for parents and students eight times since 1991.

On Wednesday, B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert expected, given the wording in a media advisory, that Clark would move on a proposed 10-year labour deal with teachers.

If that's the case, she wants to know why the province hasn't sat down with teachers to discuss a deal.

"If you're going to propose something that affects teacher bargaining why would you do that in the press before you talk to teachers?" Lambert asked.

"We have had not one moment's discussion on this with anyone in government."

Clark asked McRae back in October to review the teacher-bargaining system and broker peace between the province and teachers' union.

At the time, Clark hoped McRae's efforts would result in a 10-year collective agreement with the union when contract talks open in the spring.

Teachers didn't warm to the idea then, and Lambert maintains a 10-year deal would be irresponsible given how much the economy and classroom conditions can change during a decade.

"There's no way that anyone with any ounce of responsibility as leader of a union would sign off on a 10-year deal," she said.

Any deal needs to properly address class size and composition, the loss of specialist teachers and teacher compensation, said Lambert. These are all matters of funding.

Stable funding is the only way to guarantee stability in education, said Harper. She would like Clark to abandon the current funding model, which is based on student enrolment, and return to a more reliable system.

She said there was a time when funding was based on classroom space and the number of pupils.

"You always knew that you had X amount of dollars," said Harper.

If Clark does pursue a 10-year deal with teachers, she is doing so without anyone's support.

"And that would be illogical," said Harper.

Harper's school board colleagues believe change need to come at the budgetary level. Trustee Annette Glover said it's tough to guess when the province has offered nothing.

Kamloops-Thompson School District Supt. Terry Sullivan has no idea what Clark is planning, and declined to speculate.

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