Back to normal for schools this fall

Teachers, trustees approve of a new collective agreement

By Anna Killen

BOTH THE Coast Mountains School District and local teachers’ union representatives are looking forward to a normal start to the school year after the province’s school boards voted July 4 to ratify a deal reached with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF)

“We’re hoping for a nice, calm, ordinary school year,” said school board chair Art Erasmus.

The BCTF approved the deal June 29, after union executives reluctantly recommended the teachers vote in favour.

“A lot of people felt in betwixt and in between,” said Cathy Lambright, head of the Terrace District Teachers’ Union, of accepting the agreement, which did not include wage increases.

“We did succeed in getting the government to get its concession demands off the table,” she said. “But the agreement arrived at did absolutely nothing in terms of class size and composition. It left all of those unresolved.”

The agreement did include minor improvements in provincial benefits, but some portions of the local benefits package were slightly worse, said Lambright. Coverage for eyeglasses went down, and the deductible for teachers here was increased, she said.

The local benefits package is just one factor that will come into play when the teachers start negotiations again next year.

The deal reached is a two-year agreement that runs retroactively to June 30, 2011 and expires on June 30, 2013 meaning its back to the table next spring.

Both Erasmus and Lambright acknowledged that next year’s provincial election in May could have a significant effect on negotiations.

“Issues that weren’t resolved this time are expected to be canvassed again,” said Erasmus. “There’s going to be a provincial election right before negotiations.”

“I don’t think the NDP can solve all of our problems,” said Lambright, noting the TDTU is not aligned with any political party. “But many teachers are discouraged with this government’s approach to education.”

But for now, parents and students can rest easy knowing that, at least in September, both sides are ready for business as usual.

“No one likes to start a school year like we did last year,” said Lambright. “It’s hard for teachers to give up extracurriculars, it’s not something teachers take lightly. It’s a positive experience for the students, teachers and their parents.”

“It was a long, difficult year,” she said. “It’s nice to start the school year in school.”

Teachers began the school year last September by refusing a number of duties, including report card preparation and supervising students on school grounds before and after class and during recess.

Teachers were also told not to take part in extracurricular athletic and cultural activities.

That escalated into a three-day strike this spring and the passage of back to work legislation by the provincial government.