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BC government passes Bill 22

The B.C. legislature today passed Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.

The new legislation suspends teachers' strike action, establishes a "cooling off" period and appoints a mediator to work with the parties toward a negotiated agreement.

The "cooling off" period will come into effect this Saturday, so that all strike activity must cease when schools resume following spring break.

The next step is the appointment of a mediator to work with the parties toward a negotiated settlement.

Education Minister George Abbott will be writing to both the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) tomorrow asking that they submit names to be considered as potential mediators.

Potential candidates should have a strong background in education, be held in high regard by the education community, and have effective dispute resolution and consensus building skills. The minister will consider all submissions received from the two parties by March 26, 2012.

Once appointed, the mediator will work with both parties on issues of mutual concern.

This will include issues raised by the BCTF - such as classroom organization and the local/provincial split of bargaining - as well as issues raised by the BCPSEA, such as professional development and teacher evaluation.

The new legislation does not impose a new contract.

Rather, it extends the existing contract to cover the mediation period. If a new agreement cannot be reached by the beginning of summer, the mediator will make non-binding recommendations to government by June 30, 2012.

Bill 22 also implements a new Learning Improvement Fund of $165 million over three years to help school districts and teachers address complex classroom composition issues.

This fall, $30 million from the Learning Improvement Fund will be allocated to classrooms with the greatest need.

This will be increased to $60 million the following year, and to $75 million every year after that.

Districts will be able to use the funds to:

* Hire additional teachers and special education assistants.

* Provide additional teaching time.

* Support professional development and training for teachers.

The Education Improvement Act provides for additional compensation to teachers with classes exceeding the maximum 30 students in Grades 4 to 12.

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