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Local teachers want pay raise

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Teaching profession not attractive because of low wages

Local teachers are requesting a 34 per cent pay increase over three years as part of their contract with the provincial government.

The wage increase is needed to make the profession more attractive to prospective teachers, says the president of the Howe Sound Teachers' Association.

"We haven't had a pay increase since 1992 and we're concerned about recruiting more teachers," said Marjorie Reimer.

"No one ever went into teaching to get rich but we're losing teachers to industry," she said, using the example of a chemistry teacher who could make a better living as an employee of a private company.

According to Reimer, the average starting salary for a B.C. teacher with a five-year university education is $35,000, which is $8,000 less than in Ontario.

Reimer, who has been a teacher for more than 23 years, told Pique Newsmagazine that the current crop of local teachers is nearing retirement age.

"There's going to be a world-wide shortage of teachers and we won't be able to compete," she said. "And we have an easier time recruiting new teachers than other districts do."

Whistler secondary school had problems attracting teachers when it first opened due to a combination of low pay and the high cost of living in the resort.

The Howe Sound school district spends the bulk of its annual budget – some estimates place the number at more than 80 per cent – on wages and benefits for teachers and other support staff.

According to Reimer, the demand for a 34 per cent pay increase is broken down into an initial 10 per cent market adjustment, followed by increases of eight per cent each year for the next three years.

But B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins has said the proposed pay increase is unrealistic.

The wage increase is just one of many concerns the B.C. Teachers' Federation has presented to their employer, the B.C. Public Sector Employers' Association. The two groups have been trying to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement since the last deal expired June 30.

According to Reimer, not much progress has been made on a new deal that will meet the needs of teachers and students.

"Our concerns also focus on special-needs students and small-class sizes," she said.

Reimer said the imposition of essential services legislation is also making the complex negotiations even more difficult.

The provincial government declared education an essential service last month, which would make strike action illegal.

Reimer did not speculate on the possibility of a teachers' strike but published reports have noted that a strike vote will be held if their demands are not met.

"We're just trying to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement," she said.

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