Students across the province are getting ready to go back to school on Sept. 6, but unless a contract dispute between the province and the B.C. Teachers Federation is resolved its going to be a rocky first semester.
On Tuesday the BCTF took another step towards a province-wide strike by its 42,000 members, announcing a strike vote for Sept. 20 and 22. The results of the vote will be announced on Friday, Sept. 23.
"We would rather not have to do so, but we have been working under increasingly difficult classroom conditions for many months and our students deserve better," said Jinny Sims, president of the BCTF.
Teachers are asking for a cost of living increase, for fewer years to reach the maximum salary range and a return of class size limits. There is no word on whether the class size limits would apply to small and rural schools, but according to the union more than 2,500 full-time teaching positions have been cut.
In 2001, the Gordon Campbell government made teaching an essential service after the BCTFs previous strike, making it illegal for teachers to walk off the job. The province then legislated a new contract on the teachers; that contract expired in June of 2004.
It is not clear what kinds of job action the teachers union may take if members vote in favour of a strike. Over 90 per cent of teachers voted to strike in 2001.
The B.C. Public School Employers Association, which represents 59 public school boards and the Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, expected a strike vote, but hopes it can negotiate an agreement. The last time the two sides sat down together was in June of 2005 after 30 negotiation sessions failed to produce a settlement.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, BCPSEA chief executive Hugh Finlayson noted that the province has already secured over 100 collective agreements with other public sector unions and positions. He also noted that the province still has a "net zero" compensation policy where wage increases are impossible without agreeing to a cut in other benefits.
Its unlikely the BCTF will negotiate under those conditions.
Meanwhile the provincial government has released new statistics for B.C.s education system.
$5.06 billion education budget, 10 per cent higher than 2000-2001
$7,079 in funding per student (estimated), the highest ever
$253 million increase for education over next three years
$700 million for 2005-2008 capital plan, including an extra $217 million for 2007-08
$1.5 billion for 15-year plan to make schools earthquake safe, based on priority
Students and Schools
567,523 students registered for 2005-2006 (estimated), or 30,000 fewer than 2000-01
2,014 schools 1,666 public and 348 independent in 2004-05
22 new schools, 25 replacements, 131 additions and 26 renovations since 2001
Eight new schools and 39 expansions, renovations or replacement schools to be built over the next three years
Average elementary class size of 23.2 students, up from 22.6 in 2000-01