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UPDATED: Education Ministry 'botched' teacher council elections: BCTF

The BC Teachers' Federation says the upcoming elections for the new Teachers' Council have been compromised by the Teacher Regulation Branch, which the union says failed to issue ballots to "a large number of BC teachers" thanks to "administrative bungling."

"It’s unfortunate that the democratic process has been so thoroughly botched in terms of electing the representatives to lead the new Council set up to replace the former College of Teachers," says Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF), in a press release issued this afternoon.

"It’s fundamentally undemocratic because a large number of teachers will be denied the right to vote."

The release points out the Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB) has only been around since January 9, 2012, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, to facilitate the election process for the new Council. The Council replaces the controversial BC College of Teachers', which was dissolved by the government last November.

"Many teachers have not received their ballots due to large numbers of inaccuracies in the mailing lists used by the TRB, which did not provide notice to teaching certificate holders of the vote or attempt to update their voters’ list prior to the election" reads the BCTF release.

"Now, after having been advised that many teachers have not yet received their ballots, the TRB has indicated it is unwilling to extend the voting period past the deadline of 4:30 p.m., March 20, 2012."

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Education told The Tyee the call for nominations to the Council was issued online January 9, followed by an email to every teaching certificate holder in the province on January 10, with instructions to update their addresses if need be. They insist ballots were issued to all certificate holders' mailing addresses beginning February 14, and a list of BCTF-appointed and endorsed candidates for the council, complete with details about the election, also appeared in the March edition of the BCTF's Teacher magazine.

The Ministry argues the only conversation the TRB has had with the BCTF regarding the elections was yesterday, March 15, concerning three teachers who hadn't received ballots. The Ministry says the TRB offered to cover the costs of couriering the ballots to and from the three teachers in time for the election.

* A spokesperson for the BCTF disagrees with the Ministry's response, saying at least 12 teachers have contacted the union in the last week saying they haven't received ballots. In addition, conversations between the union and the TRB--which the union say took place on Wednesday, March 14, and Thursday, March 15--indicate more ballots have been returned to the TRB because of incorrect addresses, and that this concerned the Regulation Board.

The union has since sent out a mass email to all of its members about the issue, and complaints of missing ballots were still coming in as of this morning. The union spokesperson told The Tyee they don't recall the TRB sending out any electronic notification of the election on January 10, just a website update, which isn't practical as few teachers check the TRB site.

The BCTF maintains it would be easy to change the election regulations stipulating the vote must end at 4:30 p.m. on March 20, though they admit it would be easier if Minister of Education George Abbott wasn't currently in China on Ministry business. The union suggests that future TRB elections be held online, with teachers' PIN numbers used to ensure one vote per teacher.

Updated March 17, 2:42 p.m.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth-issues for The Tyee and The Tyee Solutions Society.

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