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Arbitrator confirms BCTF position on class size

In a 354-page decision, arbitrator James Dorsey upheld the position of the B.C. Teachers' Federation on class size and class composition. But on the eve of an expected bad-news budget, the decision may not improve teaching and learning conditions in the coming school year.

BCTF president Irene Lanzinger, in a news release, saw the decision as a rebuke to the provincial government:

"This award is the most definitive analysis of the government's 2006 class-size legislation. The arbitration award shows the government's decision to strip the right to bargain class size and support levels for students with special needs from collective agreements has hurt our public education system.

"This government imposed limits on school boards but did not provide any new funding to get the job done. As a result, there are actually more overcrowded classes today than before the 2005 strike."

The arbitration arose, the news release said, from grievances about the size and composition of 546 classes during the 2006-07 school year and 1,122 classes in 2007-08. The BCTF argued that government legislation required smaller classes with clearly defined composition, and that boards were ignoring the Schools Act. The BCTF also claimed that principals were failing to consult properly with teachers about specific class size and composition.

"In one case," Lanzinger told The Tyee in an interview, "a class of 27 had 15 special-needs students. That was effectively a special-needs class inside another class."

Lanzinger said she had mixed feelings about the decision, since in some cases the arbitrator said a school principal could simply make a case for a class violating guidelines on size and composition, and the teacher would have to accept it.

She also expressed uncertainty about the impact of the decision on classes in the school year starting next month: The BCTF expects 500 to 600 fewer teachers in the B.C. schools this year, only partly thanks to declining enrolments. With school boards strapped for money, she said, and perhaps more cuts in the new provincial budget, more overcrowded classes can't be ruled out.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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