Trustees say no to teacher contract Inflexible class sizes could disrupt students By Chris Woodall Howe Sound school district trustees says the proposed teachers contract is inflexible and could result in students forced to go to other schools once a class reaches a maximum size. The province's trustees voted 87.6 per cent against the contract, that they say "was worked out behind closed doors by the B.C. government and the teachers union," claims a B.C. Public School Employers Association press release. Howe Sound district board trustees voted "in camera" — behind closed doors — and have decided to keep their outcome to themselves, says trustee Andrée Janyk, who has been designated by the trustees as their spokesperson on the issue. The Howe Sound board also won't be issuing any statements on the agreement, as some other school boards have done. "We have no hard feelings toward the teachers and want an opportunity to work with them," Janyk says. Trustees are calling for the provincial government to go back to the bargaining table over the summer — and this time directly include the BCPSEA in the process. "We would like an opportunity to put forth some points that are important to the trustees, but at no time has that come about," Janyk says. "That's why the trustees (across the province) voted against the tentative agreement." The trustees shouldn't be painted as stiff-necked, Janyk says. "We were open to solutions. What wasn't expected was the government going off and developing a contract with the teachers directly," Janyk explains. The Education Ministry is miffed, threatening that the trustees' vote may trigger a lockout or teachers strike in September. "The events of the last few days are troubling, because they reveal that there is a huge gulf between these two parties," says Education Minister Paul Ramsey in a press release. "As it now stands, there exists a real likelihood of a lockout or teachers strike this fall," Ramsey says. "The chaos that would bring to our schools is unacceptable." Ramsey calls the trustees' vote "short-sighted," pointing to $150 million to be spent over the next three years to hire 1,200 new teachers, and $370 million to build 1,000 new classrooms. The minister called Kit Krieger, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, and Charles Hingston, chair of the BCPSEA, to individual meetings, Monday, June 22, but without arriving at an agreement. Trustees have several complaints. Setting maximum class sizes could mean students get bumped to schools outside their neighbourhood, the BCPSEA says. "Smaller class sizes may be desired, but are they economically feasible?" Janyk says, noting that the agreement as it is would force hiring an additional teacher for adding one extra student to the class maximum. Kicking a student to a school down the road hasn't happened yet because the school board can use a "fudge line" allowing a larger class size to make room for that student, Janyk says. Some school boards have a problem with the government's announcements regarding funding for extra librarians, etc., because it penalizes them for trying to be fiscally prudent, the West Vancouver school board says in a release. Where some boards have kept librarians, but have had to cut back in other operating expenses, others boards cut librarian positions to maintain programs and services. The provincial announcement would pump money into boards to replace librarians, but does nothing to help boards recover slashed operating costs. In any case, Janyk says there's the whole summer to work these problems out. "If the contract is legislated, then it's legislated, but I think if we're given the opportunity to negotiate through the summer, we'll have a better agreement and be ready by September," Janyk says.