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Teachers union considering five-year action plan

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‘Won’t be business as usual’ teachers vow after being legislated back to work

Teacher representatives from across the province will meet in Richmond this weekend to debate the union's suggested five-year action plan to fight provincial government legislation which has rewritten public-sector contracts.

The B.C. Teachers Federation will look closely at their options at this meeting said Marjorie Reimer, president of the Howe Sound Teachers’ Association.

"It won’t be business as usual in Howe Sound Schools," she said.

"We will be looking at the kinds of things we will no longer be able to do because we are going to be in these difficult situations with our special needs students and our class sizes."

It’s likely teachers will continue their ban on extracurricular activities and participation in things like staff meetings and parent teacher meetings may also be affected.

And said Reimer, teachers may no longer be able to afford to subsidize their classroom expenses as many have done for years. Most teachers spend about $1,000 of their own money to improve class experience for their kids.

"This is a very difficult thing for teachers because we know how important it is to students education," said Reimer.

"But we won’t have the energy.

"Certainly teacher’s goodwill will affect the kinds of activities we have done with a whole heart. Integrating new curriculum will be more difficult for us, full participation in staff meetings, and all kinds of things like giving freely of our evenings for parent-teacher interviews.

"It is a recognition of the realities that we can no longer do all these other things when we are faced with the restriction of our income, the inability to believe in democracy, and the very much harder job we are going to be doing."

Local parents while pleased the strike is over are unsure what the future will hold.

"I think there are hard feelings around," said Maureen Richmond chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Committee for Whistler Secondary.

"When there are hard feelings like this it can take a while for things to get back to where they had been."

At Myrtle Philip, the school still appears to be in Phase II of the job action with lunch time book clubs still cancelled this week.

PAC chairwoman Kris Shoup is hoping for the best, believing it must be possible for teachers, administrations, and parents to work together for students.

"It is time for it to end," she said.

"We just need to get back. Our children are losing out."

Sea to Sky teachers added their voice to a province-wide walk-out Monday and demonstrated outside Squamish school board offices.

"We had an absolutely awesome rally," said Reimer.

Across the province about 45,000 teachers took the day off work, for which they will be docked pay of about $280, to protest the government’s imposed settlement.

In Vancouver 11,000 teachers and supporters gathered at the Pacific Coliseum. In Victoria another 3,500 marched on the Legislature and thousands more took part in marches all over the province.

The teachers had been negotiating for more than 10 months.

They wanted class-size provisions, provisions to determine the number of specialty teachers in each school, defined support for special needs students, and a salary increase of 18 per cent.

They got a 7.5 per cent pay hike over three years.

The government took the class size issue and put it into the School Act.

All districts are now required:

• To have a kindergarten class size average of 19 with a top limit of 22 compared to a 20 student cap in the previous teacher’s contract.

• Grades 1-3 will have an average of 21 students with a maximum of 24 compared to 22 previously.

• Grades 4-12 the district sets an average of 30 with no maximum set. These classes were previously capped in local agreements and varied from district to district.

The districts will also be required to report to the education ministry and the parent advisory councils each year on class size.

Guarantees of services to students with special needs and guarantees of support from specialist teachers, such as librarians, counsellors, ESL and learning resource teachers, have been removed from the collective agreement and handed over to the school districts as well.

There will be no extra money from Victoria to cover the costs of the wage increase for teachers. The money will have to come from funding already allocated to school boards.

Managing these things on a district level is bad news for the corridor said Reimer.

There are very small schools like the one in Black Water Creek and small classes in other schools like Whistler Secondary which will skew district averages.

The result could be fewer larger classes in big schools such as Howe Sound Secondary.

"I truly believe there will be costs to kids here," said Reimer.

Ken Denike, chairman of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association hopes teachers will re-focus on education now that the settlement is in place.

"I would find it abominable if the whole focus of BCTF for the next five years was grief and not getting on with it," he said.

"I hope they decide to get on with it.

"They’ve got some bridges to rebuild and I don’t think they are going to be able to do that by being critics of the system and not participating actively in trying to make things work."