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Trustees want class size, composition fights settled at bargaining table

B.C.'s school trustees are calling on the provincial government and teachers' union to settle the class size and composition dispute at the bargaining table, and in a way that "minimizes disruption to students."

"I want to clearly demonstrate the leaders that we are to our students [by] showing that we can find a solution at the bargaining table," Teresa Rezansoff, president of the BC School Trustees Association, said.

In January, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Madam Susan Griffin ruled the provincial government's 2012 Education Improvement Act violated teacher bargaining rights by not allowing them to bargain class size and composition at the provincial table.

The BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) says this means government must bargain class size and composition during the current round of teacher contract negotiations, but the government has since filed an appeal of the ruling.

In a press release issued yesterday afternoon, the BCSTA released its "Stability For Students Action Plan." The plan has four objectives:

  • preventing disruptions to subjects and schedules in the 2013/14 school year;
  • resolving the class size and composition dispute at the teachers’ provincial bargaining table;
  • that any changes to class size and composition be phased in;
  • and that government cover any costs to districts in making those changes.

The BCTF has asked for a return to classroom size and compositions prior to 2002 when the provincial government initially stripped teacher contracts of the right to bargain working conditions. This means the hiring of thousands of new teachers and more classroom space than is currently available thanks to school closures and the introduction of alternative programs, Strong Starts and other community amenities in vacant school space since 2002.

The provincial government has estimated this would cost in excess of $1 billion, and Rezansoff says that's not possible in this school year.

"You can't be stuck on what was, we're not going to be stuck in what is, let's look at what we can do," she said.

"There is a place where class size and composition is currently being bargained, and we can work at that to find a solution. And it's not commenting on the appeal, it's not commenting on the court case. It's just saying: let's work really hard at finding a solution [at the bargaining table]."

BCSTA's action plan outlines five strategies for meeting its goals, including:

  • meeting with the premier, ministry of education, local MLAs and members of the opposition to bring up their concerns;
  • working with the BC Superintendents Association and BC Association of School Business Officials to provide boards with the information needed to emphasize the cost and disruption possibly caused by not bargaining class size and composition;
  • communicating the strategy to the public;
  • communicating with boards of education to ensure their involvement;
  • and participating in teacher contract negotiations through the existing bargaining structure which allows for BCSTA representation.

"Money aside, it's the pure impact on our students," said Rezansoff.

"Eventually there has to be some resolution, and what we say in our press release is either through negotiation, through the court ruling, through legislation, whatever it is: we just need to be able to phase it in so it works for students and for school districts."

Previous to 2013, the BCSTA voted in the members of the BC Public School Employers Association bargaining team, which represented the government during teacher contract negotiations. But last August the ministry of education replaced BCPSEA at the negotiation table with Michael Marchbank. BCPSEA has remained involved in an advisory role for government. Teacher contract negotiations have been ongoing for over a year.

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

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