Teachers say yes to contract trustees predicted to say no By Chris Woodall Howe Sound district teachers joined with their peers to cast an overwhelming 73.5 per cent "yes" vote to a proposed three-year collective agreement with the province. The agreement kicks in on Canada Day, lasting to June 30, 2001. The province's trustees, however, are predicted to swing the opposite way, perhaps voting as much as 73 per cent "no" in the face of government warnings to toe the line in support of the contract. Trustees vote in mid June with results expected by June 18. The B.C. Public School Employers Association has come out strongly against the contract, calling on trustees to vote negatively. Howe Sound district teachers federation president Alex Miller thinks the province's trustees will vote accordingly. "My prediction is that they'll vote 73 per cent no." Trustees in the province's 59 districts were to meet yesterday (June 4) for an information session on the contract prior to voting June 15. The province has been sparring with trustees, first saying trustees are "bent on short-changing Kindergarten to Grade 12 students and their parents" if they vote against the collective agreement. Education Minister Paul Ramsey recently called all school superintendents to meet him in Victoria so he could personally imprint government policy on their minds. The superintendents were then to "fully inform their boards on the benefits and implications of the agreement, so school trustees can be as knowledgeable about the agreement as possible," Ramsey says in a June 2 press release. The agreement's highlights give teachers a 2 per cent wage increase on April 1, 2000; provide $75 million over three years to hire 500 additional librarians, counsellors, learning assistants, ESL and special language teachers, starting with hiring 350 new teachers by September, 1998; and establish lower class sizes for Grades K-3 students. "We're looking at this as a whole new accord for education," Miller says. "The money is going where it should be going: to decrease classroom size and to protect library services." Keeping librarians is "absolutely essential," Miller says, and was an issue that teachers supported "at the cost of a wage hike." "We can spend money on improvements to education or to wages, but that's a reality of life," Miller says. "We really feel this is a new beginning for education," Miller says of the government guarantee to fund librarian salaries and keep class sizes small. "We see it as a win-win for students." Part of the trustees and superintendents' unhappiness may be in feeling helpless to control their own budgets. "I hope the trustees will see this as being a good deal," Miller says. "There will be severe repercussions if they don't vote for it." But not from the teachers. "The province doesn't want to fool around. It's a spectator sport for us now," Miller says of what may happen after the trustees vote. What impact a trustee rejection of the deal would have is unclear, as the contract is between the province and the teachers.