An extra $50 million to hire new teachers is coming to British Columbia’s 60 school districts this month, thanks to a deal reached by the provincial teachers’ union and its employers.
It’s a “preliminary first step” in reinstating language stripped from teachers’ contracts 15 years ago, according to both the union and ministry.
The money, enough to support as many as 1,100 full-time equivalent teacher positions, will be added to the existing education budget and available “immediately” to districts, said Education Minister Mike Bernier.
“This will be new money and ongoing funds for school districts around the province,” Bernier said on Thursday.
The ministry, BC Teachers’ Federation, and BC Public School Employers Association have been working towards this deal since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in November that the legislated stripping of teachers’ contracts in 2002, implemented by then-education minister Christy Clark, was unconstitutional.
The ruling paved the way for the reintroduction of language on class size and composition, as well as the ratio of students to specialty teachers like counsellors, special needs teachers, and teacher librarians, into current teacher contracts.
The union estimates that associated costs with fully reinstating the language would be $300 million annually, on top of the province’s current $5.1-billion annual education budget.
The $50 million announced Thursday will be allocated to districts based on a formula that includes the number of students enrolled.
BCTF President Glen Hansman said the formula is similar to that used to allocate the province’s $400-million Education Fund, also known as the Learning Improvement Fund, included in the teachers’ 2014 contract to hire more specialty teachers and reduce class sizes.
But unlike the Education Fund, Hansman said this new formula includes a dispute resolution process and requires each district and local teachers’ union to agree on how money is spent.
“And the province has committed to providing an exact accounting about how much has been spent, where, and how,” Hansman said. That’s important, he added, because of the union’s concerns that the Education Fund lacks transparency on spending.
“[This] leads us to further our resolve that having the guarantees and exact language in our collective agreement is really important, because then the transparency is always there and there’s always certainty about the workload our members will have and the sorts of supports that students and parents can expect,” he said.
‘Not as simple as flipping a switch’
Getting the exact language back in teachers’ contracts will take more time. Bernier said that much has changed since teachers’ contracts were stripped in 2002, including about 70,000 fewer students, the closure of over 250 schools, and population changes in B.C. communities.
“There’s a lot of discussion that has to take place. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and going back to 2002,” he said, adding everyone involved wants all changes implemented by the beginning of the next school year.
It’s unclear whether additional money and language will be announced before districts are expected to submit balanced budgets by the end of June. “More than likely,” negotiations will at least extend beyond the 2017/18 B.C. budget announcement on Feb. 21, Bernier said.
That’s where the teachers, who Hansman said are frustrated by the pace of negotiations, split from the province.
“The onus is now on government to ensure that the Feb. 21 provincial budget contains the necessary funding to make full restoration possible,” he said. “Parents, teachers, and the public expect as much, and we will all need to keep the pressure up to ensure that this happens.”
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