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Trustees join proposed BC teacher bargaining table

In a joint press release issued earlier today, the ministry of education and the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) announced the participation of trustees at the provincial teacher bargaining table when contract negotiations resume this fall.

Saying they both support "long-term stability" in the province's education system, the release notes the ministry's framework for a 10-year agreement was made after they solicited suggestions for improving bargaining from both the BCSTA and the BC Teachers' Federation last fall.

The release says trustees' participation in provincial bargaining was discussed privately between Education Minister Peter Fassbender and the BCSTA last week.

"At that meeting, it was made clear that government recognizes, and is committed to, a co-governance model with boards of education," reads the release.

"Accordingly, boards will remain responsible for bargaining for local matters -- as they have done for years. At the provincial level, trustees, through the BCSTA, will be integral to the bargaining process and will continue to have a voice and a seat at the table as government bargains directly with the BCTF."

The ministry hopes to hash out the new bargaining structure with the BCTF, BCSTA, and the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) in the coming months before negotiations resume in September.

But BCSTA President Teresa Rezansoff says support for long-term stability doesn't mean an endorsement of the 10-year deal.

"We're just saying that our trustee voice is important to be there. If government is going to bargain directly with teachers, we want our voice to be there, too," she told The Tyee.

In the current bargaining structure, the BCTF bargains with BCPSEA, their employer. Last week the ministry announced the appointment of Peter Cameron, a well-known freelance mediator and arbitrator, as government spokesperson on teacher bargaining, responsible for creating a "road map" to a 10-year negotiated contract.

BCTF President Jim Iker says it's government's prerogative if they want to change who sits across from teachers at the bargaining table. But he notes in the current structure there are already two government representatives and one trustee on BCPSEA's negotiating team.

"We don't know what rights and power any representative has at the bargaining table for (BCPSEA), whether that's a new representative going to the bargaining table on their behalf or the current ones," he told The Tyee.

"Our assumption is that the government reps on BCPSEA report to government about what's going on with bargaining. But I can't really tell for sure what's going on, on their side."

Today's joint statement also says BCPSEA will continue to play a role at the provincial and local bargaining tables, but doesn't specify what that role will be. Rezansoff says she isn't clear on what BCSTA's role will be at the provincial table, either, but that it will be negotiated between BCTSA, the ministry, and the BCTF.

The Tyee contacted the ministry for further details about the new bargaining structure, but the ministry could not comment by deadline.

Iker says teachers also want long-term stability, but that isn't going to be achieved by a 10-year teacher contract.

"We've been bargaining now for five months, and it has been respectful, it has been constructive, there's been some agreements already in some areas, but what the table right now is lacking is the necessary resources," he said.

"We were hoping for an agreement by the end of June; government didn't bring the resources to the table for the employer so we weren't able to. But we've got no crisis: we're taking a break for the summer and we'll be back at the table hopefully in September.”

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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