Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saanich school board votes to restore class sizes in deficit budget

At a Special Budget Meeting, the Saanich Board of Education passed a deficit budget. Unlike other "deficit budgets" sometimes passed symbolically, they did not pass a balanced budget. They passed a single budget, one that is above the available funding by close to $2.828 million dollars. This amount represents $328,000 worth of proposed cuts not made, and an additional $2.5 million to restore class size and composition and other eroded services. This Restoration Budget passed by a vote of 3 to 2 (2 trustees were absent).

The Board passed two additional motions as well. One motion requesting that government immediately address the inequities in the current funding formula, and another directing the Board Chair to submit this budget directly to the Minister (they cannot submit it using the normal process as they were unable to pass a budget bylaw, nor can this budget be signed by the secretary-treasurer).

It is exciting that a Board has taken a firm stand to say to government that class sizes need to be restored and respected in light of the recent court decision. I hope other Boards will follow suit.

Also read commentary from Maple Ridge Trustee Stepan Vdovine:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BCCPAC General Meeting - some interesting motions

I just received an updated list of motions coming forward to this year's BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council's Annual General Meeting.

Of particular interest:

BCCPAC call on Boards of Education to cease to install Wi‐Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible

This is evidently a topic of discussion in more districts than Victoria. Parents and teachers and community members have expressed concern that the health impact of wireless technologies on children is largely unknown.

that BCCPAC urge the Ministry of Universities, Innovation and Corporate Initiatives Division, and the British Columbia College of Teachers, to require wide‐ranging teacher training in special education needs. All teaching positions should require comprehensive training in special education to qualify for graduation and to receive certification. Continued professional development in special education should be a mandatory requirement to maintain certification. This would ensure classroom teachers are equipped with current up‐to‐date information and strategies in order to support the diverse learning needs of students and to help identify students that should be referred to specialists for further service
and/or assessment.

This motion is interesting more for the problem identified than the proposed solution. In my experience, many teachers are fully aware of students requiring the service of specialists, but school districts simply don't provide them anymore. In Victoria, not only are wait times for testing measured in years, but I am now hearing that teachers cannot even get students onto the waitlists in some cases.

Across BC, since 2002 we have lost 81 counseling positions and 648 special education teachers. Special education teachers typically have an additional diploma or Masters program in special education and are highly qualified.

Moreover, classes are now regularly overloaded with too many students having identified special needs. A classroom teacher simply cannot meet the educational needs of every child when classes are too large and the needs are many. In 2009/10 there were 11, 959 classes that had four or more students with an individual education plan. In my experience, even the most well trained teacher does not have enough minutes in the day or hours in the week to meet the individual needs of every students when the needs are so great and so varied.

BCCPAC strongly urge the Ministry of Education to immediately change the current Class Size section in the school act (76.1) affecting class size for Kindergarten students to the following:

Class size
76.1 (1) A board must ensure that the average size of its classes, in the aggregate, does not exceed:
a) for kindergarten, 12 students,
b) for grades 1 to 3, 21 students,
c) for grades 4 to 7, 28 students, and
d) for grades 8 to 12, 30 students.
(2) Despite subsection (1), a board must ensure that the size of any primary grades class in any school in its school district does not exceed
(a) for kindergarten, 16 students and
(b) for grades 1 to 3, 24 students.

I'm happy to see class size on the agenda for parents, and hope there will also be discussion about the recent court ruling on bills 27 and 28 and its implications. Teachers are calling on the government to immediately restore the funding needed to ensure previous class size and composition levels are met this fall. This motion actually calls for even lower class sizes in Kindergarten and is a welcome addition to the discussion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saskatchewan teachers vote 95% in favour of job action

By a vote of 95%, the teachers of Saskatchewan have voted in favour of possible job action.

“The goal of the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee is to return to the bargaining table to negotiate an agreement that affirms the worth of teachers, not to take sanctions,” said Gwen Dueck, chief spokesperson for the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee. “We urge the Government - Trustee Bargaining Committee to bring increased resources to the table to reflect the professionalism of teachers.”

Saskatchewan teachers have been negotiating for eleven months and have been without a contract since September 2010.

“Teachers are committed to the students and the public they serve. They do not want to withdraw services, but this is an issue of fairness and valuing the professional role of teachers in ensuring the future of our province,” Dueck said.

Wages are the main issue. Teachers are seeking a 12% increase in one year, while the government has offered 5.5% over three years.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Victoria School Board stalls in negotiations

Victoria teachers are becoming increasingly concerned that the Victoria School Board appears to have no real interest or commitment to bargaining a new collective agreement before the June 30, 2011 deadline. This is the date that the current agreement expires.

The Board has met with teachers for 2 1/2 days, and has agreed to only 1 more day. The teachers' negotiating team has advised the Board that there are 45 items teachers wish to discuss.

In the last negotiating session, the Board's Secretary-Treasurer, George Ambeault, told the teachers' negotiating team that they may as well be talking to the "white board".

It reminds me of a blog entry from a student at Vancouver Island University commenting on the four week strike. They were remarking on the fact that the University had not sat down to bargain from May - November 2010. That led to a four week strike when negotiations actually took place.

The Greater Victoria Teachers' Association (GVTA) invited School District 61 to the bargaining table on January 4, 2011. This is a full six months prior to the end of our current collective agreement. The Board agreed to a single morning session, in early March. At that session, the GVTA provided 44 days of availability to meet and bargain. The Board agreed to only 2.

In order to avoid job action, it is incumbent on all parties to meet in good faith well before agreements expire.

I hope School District 61 Trustees will come to the table to negotiate with Victoria teachers before we too face the expiry of our agreement this June.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Langara versus the wage freeze

Today's post is written by Bradley Hughes, a Langara college instructor...

Our provincial government is trying to lower living standards across the province. If they are successful in implementing a two year wage freeze, wages immediately decline relative to inflation, which is now running at over 3%. In addition, since any future increases will be negotiated as a percentage of current wages, this reduces all future wage increases. For instance, comparing two years of zero followed by 2.1 percent increases (0, 0, 2.1%) from now until 2020 with the same period of 2.1 percent increases (2.1, 2.1, 2.1) and no wage freeze, shows that our members will lose between $30,000 and $40,000 over that period if we accept the wage freeze. (2.1 percent is the amount we negotiated for the previous three year contract.)

Wages are the number one issue for instructors at at Langara College. So when our managers refused to negotiate around wages we voted 94 percent in favour of strike action. The Langara Faculty Association is a member of the Federation of Post Secondary Educators of BC. At the end of March the other staff at Langara in CUPE local 15 held a strike vote with 83 percent in favour.

The college's managers refuse to negotiate wages. They are hiding behind the province's guidelines of a net-zero agreement. They claim that their hands are tied. Interestingly, one of the people doing the tying is Langara's College president David Ross, who is also the chair of the Post Secondary Employers' Association of BC. PSEA is responsible for implementing the wage freeze guidelines in our sector.

Our union's goal is to get the college to use the money it already has to increase our wages. Langara has had record enrollments over the last few years, and our managers have been able to find money for any project that takes their fancy. Several new management positions have been created at a cost of over $770,000 a year. They have spent tens of thousands on choosing a new brand for the college, that is finding a new type face for the college name and picking an especially lurid shade of orange for it. They spent thousands to create a coat of arms for the college, presumably because the old open book logo wasn't modern enough and symbolism from 12th century feudal Europe will better represent the managers' view of the college.

We've done several job actions so far. We started with a mid-day walk out and study session for several hours on a Friday afternoon. This was followed by an information picket where we handed out 6,000 leaflets to students and other staff as they arrived.

Many of our members, CUPE 15 members, and students attended the college board meeting at the end of March to find out why they were allowing their bargaining team to refuse to negotiate with the LFA and CUPE 15. In her remarks, LFA president Lynn Carter, asked the college board to “step up”.

We know that there is money in the Langara College budget. We have new administrators, new branding, and flashy new signage. We expect the College Board to step up and unlock the budget to allow Langara employees to bargain freely, fairly, and respectfully.

We expect the College Board to step up and lobby on the College’s behalf so that their own bargainers have the ability to bargain without resorting to excuses like “our hands are tied.”

We expect College Board members to step up and demonstrate their commitment to Langara College faculty and staff, all of whom are dedicated to maintaining this institution’s reputation as the leading undergraduate college in British Columbia.

Our current job action is withholding grades. Exams are in progress now and instructors can submit their grades online at any time. The deadline is Tuesday April 26. If this action continues past the 26th it will impact students' admission to programs all over the province, and it also effects classes at Langara. Many courses have prerequisites of a minimum grade in a previous class. Langara offers a very large selection of course over the summer semester. We hope some serious bargaining takes place prior to this deadline.

We have had lots of solidarity from the students. The Langara Social Justice Club has circulated a letter, entitled Let's end this job action by supporting our professors! for students to email to the college president and chair of the board. They also set up a table and collected 175 signed letters of support in one hour. That's almost three letters a minute! The letter begins, “I am a Langara student, and I am outraged at your refusal to negotiate with the Langara Faculty Association (LFA) and CUPE 15.” Later it reads, “It is unacceptable that you are trying impose a wage freeze.”

In my classes, my students have been supportive, but of course also nervous about the consequences of a prolonged strike or withholding grades.

At several membership meetings, Langara instructors have made it clear we are willing to strike if needed to protect our wages.

Bradley Hughes teaches at Langara College. He is @RedLangara on Twitter and frequently contributes to Socialist Worker newspaper.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Premier Clark says she will respect court decision

Premier Christy Clark said yesterday that she will respect the court ruling on class size negotiations.

CKNW reported (

"Saying her government will respect Wednesday's BC Supreme Court ruling, Premier Christy Clark has promised to change unconstitutional legislation... which strips teachers of their right to negotiate class sizes and composition.

"We need to go back and make sure that we address the issues that the court raised and we absolutely will do that."


Clark says changes will be made within the one year deadline ordered by the judge, but it's too early to determine if they can be made during contract talks now underway with the BC Teachers' Federation."

This is excellent news, as nine years is already too long for improvements to classroom conditions.

There have been a number of excellent articles about the BC Supreme Court ruling. Here are a few:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whose fault was it? Some quotes from the court on teacher bargaining

One of the debates that frequents the "comments" section on education blogs is "Whose fault is it?" that teacher bargaining has failed so miserably over the past decade. The recent judgement on Bills 27 and 28, which imposed a settlement during the 2001/2002 round of bargaining, is instructive in answering this question.

Excerpts from The Honerable Madam Justice S. Griffin, in her Reasons for Judgement on the BCTF Class size court case:

Paragraph 1:
The elementary and high school teachers of British Columbia challenge provincial legislation as unconstitutional on the basis that it deprives them of collective bargaining rights, thereby infringing their freedom to associate guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Paragraph 9:
For the reasons that follow, I have found that most, but not all, of the challenged legislation is unconstitutional as violating the s. 2 (d) freedom to associate and to engage in collective bargaining.

Paragraph 11:
In summary, the teachers' position is that the provincial government by its legislation unilaterally voided existing terms in their collective agreement, and prohibited future collective bargaining, on the subjects of restrictions on class sizes, class composition (number of special needs children integrated in the class), ratios of non-enrolling teachers to students (teachers not assigned to classrooms, such as librarians, counselors, and special education teachers), and workload.

Paragraph 12:
The government's position is that these subjects are more importantly matters of educational policy decisions, and ought not to be the subject of collective bargaining.

Paragraph 131:
The results of the Korbin commission do not support the suggestion that teachers had made unduly rigid demands with respect to class size or composition. The Korbin Report observed that mediation and facilitation processes available under existing labour laws had been working well to resolve disputes in the first period of collective bargaining.

(Note: The Korbin Report was written in the mid-90's and she was commenting on a time when teachers bargained locally with school boards, a bargaining model that the BCTF supports.)

Paragraph 138:
BCPSEA called upon school administrators to document problems with these limits. An association of school principals and vice-principals (BCPVPA) commissioned a survey of school administrators in October 1998.

(Note: this was the Bognar survey)

Paragraph 139
The Bognar suvery was not designed to obtain neutral and objective information and so it cannot be relied upon as a fair representative sample.

Paragraph 141
A representative of BCPSEA, Mr. Rick Davis, also set about to informally gather information from school administrators, designed to illustrate problems with class size and composition limits.

(Note: Mr. Davis is now a "Superintendent of Achievement" in the Ministry of Education)

Paragraph 144
However, when Mr. Davis was pressed on this affidavit evidence in cross-examination, it became clear that it was not accurate.

Paragraph 147
But is is also clear from the government's own evidence that a key reason that school administrators and the government did not like to have class size and composition limits included in collective agreements was the fact that these limits increased costs to school districts.

Paragraph 175
On January 22, 2002, the BCTF presented a "Framework for Settlement". BCPSEA rejected this proposal.

Paragraph 177
No collective agreement was reached before the government tabled bill 27 and bill 28 in the legislature on January 25, 2002.

Paragraph 224
While I do not reject the government proposition that class size is a matter of educational policy, it is also a matter that affects the working conditions of teachers.

Paragraph 255
The legislation deleted hundreds of terms of the collective agreement. Many of these terms dealt with subject matters that the parties had been actively negotiating for several months, with the BCTF providing several proposals dealing with these terms at he bargaining table. All of this negotiating exercise and effort was for naught.

Paragraph 288
A teacher's work is done both inside and outside of the class room. Teachers must prepare lessons and learning materials, assess individual student progress, arrange special assistance for students in need, perform administrative tasks and marking, and meet outside of classroom hours with students and parents to discuss learning outcomes and disciplinary issues. Increases in class sizes not only impact the management of the classroom, they also result in a greater workload. These effects are compounded the greater the number of special needs students integrated into the classroom, and the fewer the supports from non-enrolling teachers (specialist assistants and other support staff).

Paragraph 293
Taking away the right to bargain these matters seriously eroded the bargaining strength of teachers and increased the bargaining strength of the employer.

Paragraph 307
By passing this legislation without so much as consulting with BCTF, the government did not preserve the essential underpinning of collective bargaining, namely, good faith negotiation and consultation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Breaking News: BC Supreme Court finds law restricting teacher bargaining unconstitutional

Just out ...

The BC Supreme Court has released its decision regarding Bills 27 and 28 which limited the rights of teachers to negotiate class size, class composition and school calendar.

Paragraph 381 reads: "I conclude: a) In enacting ss. 8, 9 and 15 of PEFCA, and s. 5 of the Amendment Act, the government infringed teachers' freedom of association guaranteed by s. 2(d) of the Charter. b) This infringement was not a reasonable limit demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society under s. 1 of the Charter."

These sections prohibit teachers from negotiating class size and class composition limits, as well as extended day and year-round schooling.

The Court provided a one year period for the government to "address the repercussions of this decision".

The Court commented on the effects of the legislation for teachers:

"The legislation undoubtedly was seen by teachers as evidence that the government did not respect them or consider them to be valued contributors to the education system, having excluded them from any freedom to associate to influence their working conditions. this was a seriously deleterious effect of the legislation, one adversely disproportionate to any salutary effects revealed by the evidence."

You can access the full decision here:

Excellent reminder of Christy Clark's role is on Vaugh Palmer's blog here:

More analysis coming soon...

Saskatchewan teachers take strike vote

Teachers in Saskatchewan conclude their voting today on possible job action. The main issue is pay. The government has offered 5.5% over three years.

Teachers feel this will put them further behind. Saskatchewan teachers used to be ahead of their colleagues in Manitoba, but have since fallen behind. The teachers are asking for 12% over one year to regain their parity with Manitoba.

The Saskatchewan economy is doing very well. The government is predicting the highest growth rate in all of Canada (

Sunday, April 10, 2011

BCSTA and "Waiting for Superman"

I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle upon reading Janet Steffenhagen's blog entry about my tweet:

But the more I thought about it, the more I hope that some Trustees will take the BCSTA to task for showing this film at the BCSTA Annual General Meeting.

In the BCSTA policy manaual (, all of which has been democratically decided by BCSTA members, they state:

"BCSTA believes that public funds used for education in schools in the province should only be expended in schools under the direction of a board of education constituted under the provisions of the School Act."

And yet Charter schools, by their very nature, are not under the direction of locally elected Boards. In fact the "charter" in Charter School is a legal exemption from the usual laws (typically State laws) that would apply to other public schools running under a public school Board. That's what a Charter School is.

So why is the BCSTA showing a film whose central message is that public schools under the direction of locally elected Boards are the problem, and Charter schools are the answer? Why is the BCSTA using its member's funds to showcase a blatantly pro-Charter School movie?

Stephen Hansen, of the BCSTA, replied to my tweet: "With a strong public system nobody needs to win a charter school lottery to get a good education". Agreed. So why isn't the BCSTA using every moment of its AGM to advocate for a strong public system? Several alternative film showings come to mind...what about "School: The Story of American Public Education", "Race to Nowhere", "A Community Concern" or "August to June"?

If you are reading this and planning to attend the BCSTA AGM, I suggest you ditch the movie showing and have coffee with your colleagues and discuss this excellent critique by Diane Ravitch: The Myth of Charter Schools (NYT)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Me too clauses no barrier - Public employees deserve a raise

Education Minister George Abbott suggested in the media this week that teachers could not receive a pay increase because several public sector unions had negotiated "me too" clauses. This would mean that any increase to teachers would have to be replicated in some other public sector agreements. (See Vaughn Palmer -

About time public employees get a raise, I say.

In the period between 2000 - 2010, the Cost Price Index increased 19%. Public sector wages increased 17%. Private sector wages increased 25%. And of course MLA salaries, in just 2007, increased 29%.

Public sector workers have taken an unfair pay cut this last decade, while private sector employees have beat inflation and politicians have felt fine giving themselves an extravagant pay raise.

Public sector employees support our local economies. Fair increases to public sector workers will mean increased spending at small businesses in our local communities. This is especially needed in the face of reduced consumer spending due to the HST.

And how is the economy doing? Here is one recent report from the National Bank of Canada: (

In January, the Canadian economy advanced at its fastest pace in 14 months. Between March and September, economic growth in Canada has been soft but since then the economy is running at a spectacular 5.6% annualized growth and is accelerating month after month (top chart)....

Consequently, the overall Canadian economy is poised for accelerated growth in Q1, running at a 4.2% annual pace so far in the quarter (middle chart). It turns out that this compares to the January BoC forecast calling for 2.5%. Moreover, the BoC also significantly underestimated Q4 2010 real GDP growth (2.3% vs. outcome of 3.3%). As a result, the level of Canadian real GDP at the end of Q1 2011 is 0.6% higher than what the BoC was expecting to see (bottom chart). While it is true that events in Japan will impact auto production in Q2 2011, we would expect a strong rebound in the second half of 2011 as the Japanese supply chain is restored. The fact of the matter is that the Canadian expansion is not threatened in an environment where the U.S. job market is strengthening.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Trustee Advocacy - Is it happening?

"When teachers and Trustees work together, things change". I remember this comment like it was yesterday. I was taking a course called "The History of Education in British Columbia", and this was the theme that ran through the hundred and fifty years we studied.

School Board Trustees are in an ideal position to be advocates for our public system and to speak out loudly when the provincial government does not provide adequate funding for our schools. They are elected by local citizens, which gives them the authority to speak on our behalf. They have taken an oath of office to ensure that they provide quality services for children, which means they have an obligation to speak out if they feel they are unable to provide the needed level of service with the funds provided. They are aware of the inner workings of the Districts and know how cuts affect kids and what their budgets look like.

Since 1991, funding for BCs public schools has decreased by almost half. In constant dollars, the BC public school system received $9 billion in 1991 and receives $5 billion today. The effects on students, teachers, administrators, support workers and parents is significant. Every worker in the system is constantly battling to do more with less. Stress and burnout are pervasive. More are leaving the teaching profession after a few short years. Classes are overcrowded. Students with special needs are not getting the supports they need. Students are doing work - answering telephones, cleaning recycling bins, tutoring. Vital programs are cut and eliminated. School buildings are not properly maintained. School lands are sold to meet budget shortfalls. Parents spend their time fund-raising for playgrounds, instead of reading with children. Collectively, we are trying to make up for that missing $4 billion to keep our schools as vibrant and healthy as they should be.

How have Trustees responded?

A small number of Trustees have been fantastic advocates and worked tirelessly to bring these issues forward to government, to citizens, to the media. Top on my list is Patti Bacchus, the Board Chair in Vancouver. Not only has she personally put countless hours in as an advocate for BC students, she has led a Board that sees advocacy as essential to fulfill its mandate in the current climate of chronic underfunding. If every Board followed the Vancouver lead, we would have a force to be reckoned with.

A larger number of Trustees and Boards have, under pressure from their constituents, written letters to the Ministry regarding funding issues. I haven't counted, but I think it is about 20 - 30 Boards that have done this. It is an excellent first step, but it falls far short of what is needed. One letter after twenty years of cuts just doesn't do it. And where are those letters now?

Our District had the letter posted on the web site for a month or two, and then it was gone. I haven't heard it mentioned since. Our Board, after much pressure, sent a parallel "deficit" budget to the Ministry. But that didn't even make it to the web site. There was no press release. The Board Chair did not go to the media. In response to two Trustees very actively pushing the Board to do more, a small committee was set up. But the reality is that there is no will on our Board to speak out publicly, to make a fuss, to be advocates. With the exception of these two Trustees, they don't come to community meetings on funding, they don't speak to the media, they don't advocate. They come back, year after year, and make more cuts.

It is time for this to change. Trustees should not be silent in the face of a wholesale attack on the public system. One of our Trustees, Michael McEvoy, who is now running to be President of the BC School Trustees Association, proudly put on his election campaign materials his support for a public school system. But he voted to shut schools. He voted to sell school lands. He voted for over size classes. He voted for the cuts - year after year.

Polls shows that parents and the public depend on teachers, administrators and trustees to inform them of the health and well being of schools. It is time for all Trustees to do their part and stand up and speak up. Loud and clear.