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Education mediator's 2006 report saw labour agreements as 'constraint'

In a 2006 report, the person appointed to mediate the contract dispute between the British Columbia government and teachers described labour agreements as "constraining" leadership in the province's education system.

"Principals . . . are expected to be school leaders, but they function without the authority to select teachers when openings occur in the schools because seniority trumps all other qualifications within the framework of the labour agreement," Charles Jago wrote in Working Together to Improve Performance: Preparing BC's Public Education System for the Future.

"Nor do principals generally control district time or resources for teachers' professional development. Such control in many instances rests with the teachers," he said in the report for the BC Progress Board. "As a result, principals operate without the tools to change the methodologies or priorities of the teachers they supervise."

He concluded, "Principals occasionally find ways to work around these constraints, but this seldom happens without a struggle and usually with little recognition or reward."

Education Minister George Abbott today appointed Jago to a $2,000-a-day job mediating between the B.C Teachers' Federation and the employers' organization. In a conference call with reporters, Jago described his task as "mission impossible" and "a shot in the dark" but said he would not have accepted it if he did not think it will be possible to succeed.

Elsewhere in the 39-page report Jago suggested teachers are one of several groups looking out for their own interests in the education system. "An ungenerous characterization might describe it as a system in name only, consisting of a loose collection of interlocking autonomies, sometimes interacting amicably but more often represented by fragmented collectivities (unions and various associations including those for trustees, superintendents, principals and vice-principals, parents, Aboriginals), each defending or advocating their own special interests, all justified in the name of educational quality and for the 'sake of the kids.'"

Earlier in the report, he asked, "Within a highly decentralized system of education marked by a significant degree of autonomy at every level, often politicized by labour strife, and constrained by legislated processes and provisions as well as by labour agreements, is there scope for leadership at any level to effect necessary change?"

Education Minister Abbott said he read Jago's report when it was released and re-read it recently. "The report as I read it was a very constructive one. He's looking for ways to get the educational partners working together more effectively than had been the case in the past."

Abbot said he's pleased the BCTF has, despite its reservations, agreed to participate in the process and work with Jago.

New Democratic Party Education Critic Robin Austin said he was "a little surprised" by Jago's appointment. While he said he has met Jago several times and respects his work, he noted Jago's lack of mediation experience, his donations to the BC Liberal Party and the 2006 report.

"This is a very complex file and he has positions that are on the public record . . . which clearly states his opinions on a couple of issues that are very contentious and are an important part of his mediation in Bill 22," he said. "It's challenging when someone's appointed who's already expressed their personal point of view."

Jago also found B.C. teachers are paid more than the Canadian average, but that there were fewer of them per student than the national average. On the whole, therefore, the province was spending a smaller portion of its education budget on educator salaries than the Canadian average.

The report made six suggestions in the report for improving education, none of which directly addressed labour issues.

The government needs to make investment in education a priority, he said. "When investing in education, however, governments should not write blank cheques," he said. "Government should demand accountability and apply scientific rigour to determine if priority expenditures are producing intended outcomes and improving the educational system overall."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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