Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BC Teachers' Day of Action: It's about priorities...

Here is the speech I gave yesterday at our Rally to support teachers for a fair deal:

Thank you so much everyone for being here today. Some of you are teachers, some of you are fellow trade unionists, some are parents, some concerned citizens. All are here to support fully funded public education and the fair treatment of teachers. Thank you so much for being here. Your support means the world to us.

Today, teachers are protesting across British Columbia to make this government listen. From Prince Rupert, to Nelson, to Kamloops, to Surrey, teachers are protesting.

We have been brought to this point by a government that refuses to listen. A government that thinks it can simply impose its will on teachers, on workers and on citizens. A government that is threatening, for the third time in a decade, to impose a contract on teachers. A government that is refusing to respect the democratic right of teachers to a free and fairly negotiated collective agreement. A government that has stolen three billion dollars from our education system.

What do teachers want? Teachers want to be treated with respect and dignity. Teachers want a fair and freely negotiated collective agreement. Teachers want a fair salary increase, we want class sizes back and our rights to bargain class size back, and we want an end to a public school system that is chronically underfunded.

Minister Abbott has other plans. Minister Abbott wants to impose a “net zero” contract on teachers. Minister Abbott wants to impose draconian concessions, taking away hard won rights to seniority, job security and due process. Minister Abbott wants to eliminate class size averages, and remove any requirements to ensure classes have suitable composition.

This government says they have no money - not even for cost of living increases for public sector workers. But this government has plenty of money when it comes to their friends, when it comes to their corporate backers, when it comes to the one percent. This government found the money to give twenty nine percent pay increases to MLAs, and cost of living increases every year. The money was there to pay BC Ferries CEO over a million dollars a year. A billion dollars was found to install smart meters, and another billion will go to Telus to re-wire government buildings. But when it comes to BCs public sector workers, when it comes to our public services, the coffers are dry.

The Minister says he will be introducing a “package” of bills this week. One part of the package will likely be the governments response to class size and class composition. Last year, the Supreme Court of BC found that in 2002, this government illegally removed class size limits from teachers’ collective agreement. Then, as now, this government decided that it alone had the right to unilaterally rip up contracts. In one weekend, they stole teachers democratic rights, and they robbed our public schools of three billion dollars of funding. Kids and teachers have paid the price.

Despite the Court ruling, this Minister has refused to work with teachers to find a solution. He has refused to restore the funding taken in 2002. He has refused to restore teachers’ democratic rights.

Instead, last week, this government hinted that it will be removing even what few protections we have to ensure that classes are educationally sound and properly resourced. The Minister said he is thinking of removing class size averages and the Minister said he is thinking of removing class composition limits.

These few guarantees to properly resourced schools and classrooms were won by teachers in 2005, when we walked out for two weeks. Now, in the face of a court ruling chastising the government’s actions, this same government wants to take them away.

And this government doesn’t just want to impose net zero on teachers, they want to impose net zero on the whole school system. In last week’s budget, the Minister announced his thirty million dollar fund for classrooms. But what he didn’t announce so publicly is that the same budget will take one hundred and thirty million from existing school board budgets. That is a net loss of one hundred million dollars, packaged up to look like something for students and classrooms. But teachers, parents and citizens will not be so easily fooled by such smoke and mirrors. We know that education funding has fallen from twenty five percent of the total government budget to less than fifteen. We know what this means for kids and for classrooms. And we are prepared to do what it takes to ensure schools and classrooms have the resources they need.

I read today a post on Kids in Victoria, a parent forum to discussion children’s issues. One parent eloquently described the type of impact that a decade of cuts has had on our school system:
In my opinion our children are being affected much more severely by what the government funding cuts are doing to education in our province than the job action itself. For example:

- Class composition and size affect the learning environment for everyone. The wide range of academic ability and behavioural issues in classrooms and the sheer amount of students per class has a daily affect on the learning environment. Because teachers are not provided with the specialty services needed to support the children who require more attention everyone suffers.

- Early intervention support is not adequate. Funding for the grade one Reading Recovery program at our school supports a maximum of eight participants. There are at least 14 children who desperately need this service this year.

- Learning Assistance programs are suffering. At our school those who are fortunate enough to qualify for support receive a measly twenty minute session twice a week.

- Counselling Services are almost non-existent. There is one elementary counsellor for all of School District 63. School staff try to find outside support for students that the school is unable to help but are met with long wait lists and costs that are, in some cases, prohibitive.

- There are no programs to support gifted children. High level learners are not being challenged to meet their full potential in the classroom because there are no programs or funding available.

- Parents are being relied on to fund essentials. Currently our Parent Advisory Council is attempting to raise over $25,000 to help pay for basics like text books, classroom technology, art and physical education programs and library books. Items that used to be covered by our tax dollars are now being paid for by chocolate and magazine sales.

I am willing to give up written report cards and no field trips if the teachers can make progress on ANY of these issues.

The stakes are high. This government wants to yet again run rough-shod on teachers democratic rights and further undermine the wonderful school system we have all built together. But collectively we will force this government to listen.

Thank you again to everyone who took the time out of their busy day to be here. You support is so appreciated.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rally to support teachers for a fair deal

On Thursday, Education Minister George Abbott indicated his intention to introduce a "package" of bills next week. It seems that legislating an end to bargaining is only one objective. The package could also include concessions that the government is seeking from the current contract including seniority provisions, job security rights, and due process rights. This is very scary indeed - perhaps a move a la Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin who made similar attacks on US teachers.

The "package" could also include the government's response to the Supreme Court of BC ruling that the removal of all class size and class composition provisions in 2002 was illegal and unconstitutional. From the Minister's musings, however, it appears he is preparing to worsen our classroom conditions by removing class size averages and removing guidelines that determine how many students with special needs are in each class.

Such a "package" of bills is appalling. It is an affront to the right to free collective bargaining, the rights of employees to job security and due process rights, and the rights of children to a quality education in reasonable classroom conditions.

Please join teachers around BC who will be holding a "Day of Action" on Monday. If you are in the Victoria region, we are hosting a "Rally to support teachers for a fair deal" at the Legislature, beginning at 3:30pm.

Please join the event on Facebook and share with your friends:


Thank you!

Friday, February 24, 2012

On a legislated contract and parents who care - one teacher's perspective

A Victoria teacher responded to a CBC interview with Sheila Orr about the Liberal government's plan to legislate an imposed contract on teachers:

I was so discouraged to hear Sheila Orr's cavalier, "I don't care" today when asked about the teachers being legislated back to work. She talked about hearing parents talking on the playground, feeling exactly the same as her - they don't care, it's time for teachers to go back and give children what they aren't getting. Well, I am a teacher, and I talk to parents all the time. The parents I work with DO care. They care when their children aren't getting adequate instruction in class because the teacher is spending too much time managing constantly disruptive behaviours. They care when a child with autism is only given funding for a half day of assistance, leaving schools struggling to know how to cope. They care when their child is released from learning assistance after six weeks, just starting to make progress, because the funding isn't there to continue. They care when their child waits almost a year for a referral to a school occupational therapist. They certainly do care. It's not hard to learn more about the real issues behind the teacher's strike. Ms Orr's position that teachers need to go back and give the children what they aren't getting, is shockingly naive and uninformed considering she is given a weekly platform to discuss political issues. Instead of adding to an educated debate, she adds fuel to the fire of ignorance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Will the BC government agree to mediation to resolve teacher bargaining?

Today the BCTF made a request for the Labour Relations Board to appoint a mediator to help resolve teacher bargaining. Not only the LRB, but also the Minister can call for various forms of mediation and arbitration to resolve the issue.

Calls and suggestions for this have been made in a number of arenas, including the press. Mediation and arbitration can be effective ways to deal with an impasse. In Saskatchewan, an arbitrator was able to find middle ground in the recent teachers dispute over pay. Back in 2005, after a two week walkout, the BC government agreed to appoint Vince Ready to develop recommendations to end the teachers strike. Although not everything teachers wanted, teachers did vote to accept his recommendations and end the strike.

As I understand the process, the LRB will first approach BCPSEA (the government's bargaining agent) to see if they will agree to mediation. How will they respond? That will be telling. If they refuse, it indicates that the government is unwilling to have a resolution with anything other than getting their way. If they refuse, we can no doubt anticipate a legislated "solution", imposing the governments will. Hardly a way to support collective bargaining in a democratic society. And hardly a way to regain and renew relationships with teachers so critical to enhancing our public education system.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Confusing differentiation with adverse discrimination - false logic

George Abbott has picked up on a mistaken theme from a few Victoria parents and a few Victoria Trustees and is now suggesting he might eliminate sections of the School Act related to class composition. The notion is that limiting the number of students with special needs for any particular class is "discriminatory". He, and the Victoria parents and Trustees, fail to understand that differentiating for the purpose of equal opportunity is not adverse discrimination. It is rather a form of targeting funding to ensure students with disabilities receive adequate service.

In response to a letter to Abbott from our Board, I wrote the following:

Dear Trustees:

We are writing to comment on your letter supporting the position of the Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils that the School Act be revised to eliminate limits on the number of students with special needs in each class.

The logic of VCPAC is flawed. The entire system of designation and designated funding is “discriminatory” in the sense VCPAC references. Students are identified and funding is allotted in a manner based on the designation. Thus funding is allotted through a discriminatory manner.

However, this is done to ensure equity of opportunity, which is the fundamental principle. Every child should have an equal opportunity to reach their educational potential, regardless of whether this costs more for a particular child.

Creating limits on the number of students with special needs in any one class creates a positive discriminatory effect on funding by ensuring that every student with special needs receives adequate teacher time. If a teacher is responsible for preparing individual student learning plans for more students with special needs, each student gets less time. The purpose of the limit is to ensure a teacher is in fact able to provide the modified or adapted learning plan within the hours of the day available to them. The richness and quality of the plan and the instruction is better the fewer students the teacher is responsible for.

No student is ever guaranteed to be in a particular class with a particular teacher. Constitutional rights of integration apply to a neighbourhood school, not a particular classroom within that school. The fact that a student with special needs is not in the class of their choice is no different than if a student without special needs is not in a class of their choice. A student may not be in a particular class for a whole variety of reasons, many of which relate to particular student characteristics for both students with and without designated special needs. Classes are constructed for gender balance, based on behaviour characteristics of particular students, based on the educational needs of particular students, and so forth. This happens regardless of designation. All students, in this sense, receive “discriminatory” treatment. Classes are always constructed based on an assessment of the individual characteristics of the students.

The rationale for the limit on students with a designation is that the designation itself guarantees a certain level of instructional support beyond what is provided to students without a designation. This is time consuming. An individual teacher simply does not have time to meet the outcomes of an individual education plan if they are responsible for too many plans.

The limits and designations are not wrong because they organize classrooms based on the needs of students. In fact, this is their strength. They allow increased funding, and increased teacher time to go to those students who need it the most, as identified through the designation process. They also ensure that a teacher is not overwhelmed with workload and this impacts every student the teacher enrolls.

Finally, one function of the limits is to identify for government the funding levels required. Without limits, funding shortages simply result in overwhelmed teachers who are unable to provide the same level of service to students. This is the situation we find ourselves in today, with strict limits having been removed from our collective agreement.

We need stricter limits, not fewer limits. We need more funding, not more false “flexibility”. A return of strict limits would enable schools to establish classes in which the teachers could actually meet all the needs of their students.

We ask that you reconsider your decision and rescind your letter

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Are BC workers getting wage increases?

The BC government is trying to impose a second round of "net zero" increases for public sector workers. One of the arguments is that other workers are not getting increases.

The Conference Board of Canada, based on a survey of 236 organizations, has predicted non-union wage increases of 3% for 2012. (http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-Library/abstract.aspx?DID=4650)

Are unionized BC workers getting raises? Here are some agreements that cover the years 2010 - 2013.
  • Delta Police – 8.75% over 33 months as of April 1, 2010
  • Finning employees (IAMAW) – 4% for 2011, 3% for 2012, 3% for 2013, 4% for 2014
  • Lafarge Richmond employees – 11.5% over 4 years, November 2008 – October 2012
  • BFI Vancouver Island – 3% for 2011, 2.5% for 2012, 2.5% for 2013
  • Fairmont Hotel Vancouver employees – 2.5% for 2011, 2.5% for 2012, 2.5% for 2013
  • Global TV (CEP) – 3.5% for 2011, 2.5% for 2012, 2% for 2013
  • Greyhound employees (ATU) – 2% for 2011, 2.25% for 2012, 2.5% for 2013
  • TELUS employees (TWU) – 10.4% over 55 months as of June 2011
  • BC Nurses – 3% for 2009, 3% for 2010, 3% for 2011
  • Treasury Board of Canada (PSA) – 1.75% for 2011, 1.5% for 2012, 2% for 2013
  • CN Railway (Teamsters) – 2.4% for 2010, 3% for 2011, 3% for 2012
  • Kamloops Municipal Employees (CUPE) – 2% for 2011, 2% for 2012, 2% for 2013
  • Surrey Firefighters- 3% for 2010, 2.5% for 2011
  • North Cowichan Municipal Employees (CUPE) – 2% for 2010, 2.5% for 2011, 2.5% for 2012, 3% for 2013
  • CN Railway (CAW) – 2.4% for 2011, 2.6% for 2012, 3% for 2013, 3% for 2014
  • Comox District Municipal Employees (CUPE) – 2% for 2010, 2% for 2011, 3% for 2012, 2% for 2013
  • Vancouver Police – 2.95% for 2010, 2.95% for 2011, 1.25% for 2012, 1.3% for 2013
  • Quesnel Municipal Employees (CUPE) – 0% for 2010, 1.5% for 2011, 2% for 2012
  • BC Rapid Transit – 3% for 2010
  • Canada Revenue Agency (PSA) – 1.5% for 2010, 1.5% for 2011
  • Courtenay Municipal Employees (CUPE) – 2% for 2011, 2% for 2012, 2.75% for 2013, 2.25% for 2014
  • BC Paramedics – 3% for 2010
  • Revelstoke Municipal Employees – 1.25% for 2010, 1.25% for 2011, 1.5% for 2012, 1.5% for 2013

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are Principals friends of public education?

The BC Principals and Vice Principals Association has chosen a couple of times to wade in on the teachers' job action. Unfortunately they have chosen to mostly remain silent, or worse to oppose teacher actions - including when we are pushing for changes to improve student learning.

In 2002, when class size limits and class composition limits were illegally removed from teacher collective agreements, the Principals supported government. They wanted the "flexibility" to arrange classes however they wanted. In my school, within three short years, this meant every PE 9 class had gone from 30 up to 40 students. Principals abused this authority and quickly drastically oversize classes became the norm.

The BCPVPA has been almost silent on two decades of funding cuts to education budgets. Rather than speak out, they often claim they are working behind the scenes. This simply feeds in to a false impression that cuts are not hurting kids.

During the current job action, many Principals have refused to do struck work as required by the Labour Relations Board. It is these Principal actions that have led to most of the cancellations of field trips and other activities because Principals would not do the paperwork. Where they are, these events have gone ahead. A common complaint is that they shouldn't have to do "teacher work", but since when was teacher work so inundated with forms, money collection, and administrivia? The reality is that Principals have been downloading this work to teachers for years. Why haven't administrators advocated for adequate secretarial support in schools to meet these needs? It is nonsensical to use teacher time (that could otherwise be spent on student learning activities) for paperwork.

Principals have routinely refused to speak out when individual classes are not appropriate for student learning. Under the School Act guidelines, they must state their opinion on class organization for any class that is oversize or overcrowded. Despite 12,000 classes in this category, every single Principal for every single class has "signed off" on the class, attesting it is "appropriate for student learning". Where is the integrity in making such a claim when the real reasons (typically said privately to teachers) are lack of funding?

Principals should be joining teachers and speaking up. They only need to look south to see that they too will soon be in the firing line with a government obsessed with US style "reform". 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Negotiate, don't legislate

With the appointment of a so-called "fact finder", the BC government is apparently orchestrating its plan to legislate BC teachers and impose a contract.

I say "so-called" because the government has appointed one of their own...we cannot expect any serious, independent report from an appointed government bureaucrat. He is not independent. He is not an arbitrator, mediator, or from the Labour Board. Worse than that, in his previous life, Trevor Hughes worked for the employer's association in healthcare - the BC Health Employers Association. This is the health care equivalent of teachers' employers association, BC Public School Employers Association.

In my mind, the report is a foregone conclusion, and is simply a set up to give the government some PR when they use the legislative hammer. Teachers have not provided a reason to legislate, so the government will manufacture one.

Sadly, a few voices joined the call for a legislated end, including one Trustee in my school district, Michael McEvoy. McEvoy incensed teachers when he suggested on CBC that the job action is hurting children. He conveniently failed to mention the impact of Bills 27 and 28 which eliminated class size and class composition rules and has been devastating for student learning. How anyone could suggest a missed report card is equivalent to the elimination of $3 billion in funding over the last decade is just mind boggling.

But back to the "fact finder"...the question is "can there be a negotiated settlement?" My answer is yes. But to get there, the government will have respond to teachers in bargaining. They have so far refused to engage in any bargaining on salary, benefits, improving working and learning conditions and restoring teachers' rights to negotiate class sizes. They have refused to discuss anything that does not fit their agenda. They have refused to discuss anything that costs a penny. How is this working towards a negotiated settlement?

A legislated settlement will not solve the government's problem. It will not enable government to consider changes to our education system in a collaborative and respectful manner. It will alienate and anger teachers and create more barriers with the 40,000 people who actually teach kids in classrooms every day. There are many other options for the government to pursue - first and foremost changing their "mandate". 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

BC's Learning Improvement Fund - 1 minute per student per day

The BC Ministry of Education has announced its "Learning Improvement Fund" via radio ads. Rather than put class sizes and class composition limits back into contract, and rather than reinstate teachers' ability to bargain working conditions, the government is setting up a fund to provide a paltry sum of additional money to supposedly address learning challenges. (And as an aside, it's not clear if it really is any additional money...the budget announcement for next year's funding is actually a 3% cut. It might just be re-purposing of money meaning cuts elsewhere.)

When class size and composition limits were removed in 2002, the government took $275 million per year from education budgets. How much is the Learning Improvement Fund? $30 million next year. $65 million the year after, and $75 million the year after that.

With 550,000 public school students in BC, what does this "improvement" look like?

27 cents per student per day, in year one.

For a whole class of thirty students, this is just over $8. That would buy about half an hour of an educational assistant time, to serve all 30 students. That works out to 1 minute per student per day. In year two, two minutes a day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Go east, young teacher

Ah BC, the greatest place on Earth. Let me count the ways:

1. Highest child poverty rate
2. Greatest inequality
3. Expensive housing

The mountains are beautiful, but is it really worth it?

Probably not, if you are a new teacher, starting your career.

Here are some facts to consider about cross Canada comparisons (Out of the 13 Provinces and Territories) for teaching salaries, education spending and working conditions:

  1. Starting salaries with 5 years of university education: 11th 
  2. Starting salaries with a Masters degree: 12th 
  3. Student teacher ratio (number of students for each teacher): 2nd 
  4. Total spent on education per capita: 10th
  5. Number of classes with 4 or more students with special needs: 12, 240
  6. Number of classes with more than 30 students: 3, 627
  7. Loss of learning specialist teacher in last decade: 1459
  8. Time available for lesson planning, preparation and marking: 90 minutes per week
  9. Percentage of Teachers Teaching on Call earning $10,000 or less: 36%
  10. Percentage of Teachers Teaching on Call earning $30,000 or less: 78%

For details on salary comparisons, see: http://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/BargainingContracts/U102-SalaryDocument.pdf
For funding data: http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Publications/Briefs/2011EdFundingBrief.pdf#p8
BCTF Teacher Teaching on Call Survey: http://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/TTOC/2008survey.pdf
Child poverty report card: http://www.firstcallbc.org/pdfs/economicequality/3-reportcard2011.pdf
BC Stats report on income inequality: http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/releases/info2012/in1204.pdf

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kevin Falcon speaks the Liberal truth - serve the rich

I was gob-smacked this morning to read a quote from Kevin Falcon, the Finance Minister, reacting to the recent BC Statistics  report on growing income inequality.

The report showed that BC has the biggest gap between the top and bottom twenty percent of workers of any province in Canada. Falcon responded:

But B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon makes no apologies for the income gap in B.C., saying B.C.'s Liberal government has pursued a policy of encouraging high incomes through low taxes.

Falcon doesn't dispute the numbers in the study, but he takes issue with the analysis.

"I just have trouble with people saying, 'Oh, because there's a gap there that's must be a bad thing.' You know remember, as I mentioned earlier, and I'm not being flippant, but in Cuba they don't have any income inequality because they're all poor," he said.

The utter contempt for the everyday struggles of BC citizens is not surprising. That Falcon would say so publicly is. But his comments fit in line with just about every policy decision this government has made.

The BC Liberals have hurt just about every group in that lower 80%. Here is just a short list of changes that have worsened income inequality in BC:

* Keeping minimum wage low
* Imposing a 'net zero' wage cuts on public sector workers
* Reducing progressive taxes (income) while increasing regressive taxes (HST)
* Increasing user fees for government services, such as the Medical Services Plan (MSP)

Here are a few excerpts from the report, which you can read at: (http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/releases/Info2012/In1204.pdf)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a study in
December 2011 that confirmed that the gap between the rich and poor is indeed growing. This was true in most of the member countries of the OECD and Canada was no exception. In fact, the OECD found that Canada had greater income inequality than most OECD nations. Canada ranked 26th out of 34 countries as measured by the Gini coefficient of income inequality. In addition, the report found that the income gap has been growing over time.

While tax cuts have benefitted people of all income levels to some extent, they have had less of a positive effect on the lowest income earners. This is because these lower-income individuals pay very few income taxes to begin with and are more reliant on the benefits and services that are paid for with tax revenue.

The disparity in incomes is readily apparent when one compares the top 20% of income earners with the bottom 20%. In British Columbia, in 2009, the lowest 20% earned just 7.7% of what the top 20% earned before transfers and taxes. After transfers and taxes, that figure improved to 16.5%. However, that is well down from the levels of around 22% seen in the early 1990s.

Given the level of discord over income inequality based on the number and size of protests in recent months, this issue is not likely to fade away any time soon. The OECD study offered some policy recommendations on how to tackle the problem. The top recommendation is to create more well-paying jobs that will give people a chance to escape poverty.

In addition, the study suggests that education and training are key areas for investment. Finally, it suggests that tax and benefit policies should be reformed to increase redistribution and public services such as education, health and family care should be freely accessible.