Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thoughts on a negotiated settlement over Bills 27, 28

After the euphoria of the court ruling, it is time for teachers to start thinking about what a negotiated settlement should look like coming out of the Bill 27 and 28 court ruling.

There are a number of aspects to any resolution: immediate corrections to the stripped language, future goals with respect to class size and composition, and remedy for the loss incurred over nine years.

The most immediate and pressing issue is the restoration of contract provisions for the 2011/2012 school year. Everyone would agree that disrupting classes mid-year would be less than ideal. It makes much more sense to address issues in time for school boards to plan classes and teaching resources for the fall.

Most districts had class size restrictions that exceed those currently in the School Act. For instance, K-3 (primary) would be at least 2 students smaller. Many districts had lower class sizes for split classes, and also for certain secondary subject areas such as Tech Ed and English.

In addition, many agreements had stronger limits on class composition. In Victoria, our Board was obliged to make every effort to ensure no class had more than 2 integrated students with special needs. To accomplish this for fall of 2011, many additional classes would be needed. Currently, our District staffing ratios mean roughly 300 classes exceed the School Act limit of 3. To meet the limit of 2, additional classes should be added.

Finally, most agreements included ratios for non-enrolling positions such as counselors and teacher-librarians. These positions should be restored for the fall.

Given the estimate in the court ruling that the "savings" to the government was about $275 million, a good first step would be for government to announce additional funding of this amount, as well as the restoration of the stripped provisions. This would allow Districts to set to work in staffing for the fall to meet these provisions. We know that there is money available in the "slush fund" left by outgoing Premier Campbell that current Premier Clark can access.

Beyond the immediacy of the fall, teachers would like to be able to start negotiating new provisions with their Boards locally. While we certainly expect the stripped language to be restored in accordance with the court ruling, there are also changes needed. Schools and Districts and student populations have changed since 2001. For example, the numbers of students with Autism spectrum disorders has increased in many areas. Local teachers associations would like the opportunity to be able to negotiate changes needed to address any new issues.

Lastly, the government will have to address the issue of remedy. Unlike the situation with the Hospital Employees Union, where contracting out meant many people impacted were no longer in the union, it will be much more straightforward how teachers were impacted by the legislation and what the costs were, because of the nature of legislation. For most teachers, substantial increases in workload resulted from the stripping of provisions. This was during the same time period that teachers earned less due to the trade offs in salary made for class size limits. In 1998 teachers agreed to take two years of "zero" salary increases essentially in exchange for provincial class size limits for K - 3. For the government, there was a direct cost savings resulting from the elimination of about 3000 teaching positions.

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