Teachers' job action leads to more sick days for administrators

A 65-hour work week created by the teachers' job action has seven principals off sick this week and as many as five away at any given time, the school district's superintendent said Wednesday.

"The public perception is that things are operating normally day to day and it's not," said Terry Sullivan, adding nine principals were ill last week. "There's a price that's being paid in a variety of ways."

Teachers have been engaged in a work-only strike since the start of the school year, offloading administrative tasks to principals and vice-principals in order to pressure the province to increase education spending.

It's now up to administrators to supervise students at recess and lunch, field phone calls from parents and perform the additional services like fundraising that teachers normally do.

Parkcrest elementary principal Don Poelzer has been home sick a couple of times this semester, having been run down by the workload.

He's also principal at Pinantan elementary and spends 90 minutes a day travelling between schools to carry out supervision and other duties, he said.

"There certainly is a lot more on our plate because we are picking up a lot of the extra services," said Poelzer.

He said teachers aren't attending staff meetings, which breaks down the flow of communication in a school. It's Poelzer's job to keep staff in the loop.

"Because I don't get to meet with staff as a group, there is a lot more having to go to classrooms and ask questions. That takes time," he said.

He takes phone calls from parents who wonder about events at the school and data usually provided by teachers, he said. And, with no report cards, Poelzer has no way to track a student's progress.

An average day starts at 7 a.m. and ends around 6 p.m. Poelzer doesn't get paid for the extra time, but likes to clear the work from his desk.

School district secretary treasurer Kelvin Stretch said staff at the board office is away supervising schools from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. every day.

There's more paperwork to do and annual training that's usually conducted in schools isn't happening, said Stretch. This has put everyone behind.

"It's been a struggle. We'd like to see an end to this as soon as possible," he said.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert said she doesn't like to hear that principals are getting sick.

She said the purpose of the job action is to put pressure on administrators so they push the province to act. In that sense, the plan is working.

"You go on a job action to get an effect," said Lambert. "This shows there is pressure somewhere."

School district assistant superintendent Karl de Bruijn is concerned the pressure will have a long-term impact on the relationship between teachers and principals.

He said the longer the strike continues, the greater the chance that relationship will deteriorate.

As for escalating the job action? Lambert said there are no plans to move beyond the current phase.

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