Education Minister Shirley Bond came to the Howe Sound School District this week as part of an on-going commitment by the government to visit every district in B.C.
Bond visited schools in Pemberton and Squamish – Whistler schools were closed for a collaboration day – and met with education stakeholders in the corridor.
"It was a good meeting and she was very attentive," said Cathy Jewett, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council and the DPAC representative for Myrtle Philip Elementary.
Topics ranged from the desire by some in the district to see enrichment programs for students to class size and composition issues – 50 per cent of the classes in Pemberton have four or more identified special needs students – to challenges with school-based sports.
But near the top of the list was parents’ concern about another strike by teachers.
"We talked about the fact that there was real potential for another teachers strike and parents were very worried about it," said Jewett.
"We wanted to know what provisions were being made to pay for contract settlements because last time (the school board) had to pick up the slack in (its) budget and that created some real hardships in our schools.
"The minister indicated that there have been financial provisions made for contract settlements."
The spectre of another strike, just four months after schools were shut for two weeks due to labour action, has been raised because The B.C. Teachers Federation plans to debate two resolutions at its annual general meeting this month that urge members to hold a strike vote before June 30, when the current contract expires.
This week the BCTF also released the results of a poll it conducted which showed that 61 per cent of parents supported the teachers’ right to strike.
The Liberals restricted the teachers’ right to strike in 2001 when the government passed a law declaring education an essential service.
Not much has changed since teachers went on strike said Howe Sound Teachers Association president Carl Walker.
Nevertheless, he said, "We will try to work within the system. We have to bring this to some resolution but all of the goals we had last time still remain.
"Teachers feel they are in a much stronger position now to reach a negotiated settlement but we are hoping that we don’t have to go on strike. We are bargaining in good faith so there is room for compromise."
The BCTF will set its bargaining goals and objectives at the AGM, which runs from March 11 to 14.
Jewett is concerned that both sides are entrenched.
"What both sides have to do is engage in genuine negotiation and the problem is they are both so hard line they are having difficulty moving from their positions," she said.
School District superintendent Dr Rick Erickson felt Bond left the district with a better understanding of the issues in the corridor.
"She saw the diversity we have here between the three communities in the district," he said, adding that he was impressed with her desire to learn as much as she could and interact with the education system, including the kids.
He also noted that Bond said she was working to restore trust between the ministry and educators as everyone moves forward in the contract negotiations with teachers.