Teachers feel offended by school board

A board motion asking the province to end teachers' strike to be debated this weekend.

LOCAL TEACHERS say their relationship with the Coast Mountains school board has been damaged because the latter wants the provincial government to end their strike.

Debra Thame, speaking for local teachers within the Terrace and District Teachers’ Union to school trustees last night, said the board needs to retreat from a motion it passed last month asking for “immediate government action” to end the strike.

The motion is being sent to the provincial association of school trustees and will be debated when school trustees from across the province gather in Vancouver this weekend.

Local trustees cited lack of student report cards, lack of communication within schools and having administrators do supervision work as well as their own as some reasons for wanting the province to intervene.

“This motion and supporting rationale contain many points that the teachers of this district find offensive and, quite frankly, unsubstantiated,” said Thame.

Thame said the board is taking the side of the provincial government when it should be pushing for mediation instead.

She argued that the current job action is having minimal impact on students and families, and in some cases teachers feel better prepared for lessons without the added work of administrative duties.

Teachers are not preparing report cards, not undertaking supervision duties, not having formal meetings with parents, not taking part in meetings with school officials and are not, in some circumstances, not taking part in activities outside of the school or organizing field trips during school time.

This limited strike began last fall as a way by teachers to exert pressure on school boards and the province for a settlement. Teachers want a raise but the province has said there is no money.

School board chair Art Erasmus said the BC Teachers’ Federation and the province are still very far apart in their negotiations. He noted in his trustee report that after a year and almost 80 days of bargaining the two parties are still about $2 billion apart from an agreement.

“We’re saying the government needs to do something,” Erasmus said. “[The BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association] are way way apart.”

Erasmus said the board is not getting involved in the dispute, and not saying that teachers should be legislated back to work.

The motion will be debated by BC school board trustees province-wide in Vancouver this Saturday, and if adopted, sent to the education ministry.

Attending that meeting for the Coast Mountains school district this weekend will be Kitimat trustee Ray Raj, who echoed Erasmus’ statement that the school board is not trying to force teachers back to work.

“All we are saying is we cannot run the school district the way we have been trying to the last few months,” Raj said. “This is a cry for help.”

Below is complete text of a document presented to school trustees last night by Terrace and District Teachers’ Union representative Debra Thame.

THE TERRACE District Teachers’ Union would like the Board of Education to reconsider submitting, to the BCSTA 2012 Provincial Council, the motion passed at the January 25th, meeting of the Board.

We respectfully ask that you not submit this motion, or to request that it be withdrawn if it has already been submitted.  We respectfully request that you consider passing a motion of support for our call to mediation instead.

This Board of Education has stated in numerous meetings that they would like to improve teacher morale and have a more open and positive relationship with their teacher employees.

Furthermore, your Board chair, Art Erasmus, was quoted publicly in the Terrace Standard that the Board does not wish to take sides in this matter. Mr. Erasmus was also quoted as stating that it does not call for a legislated end to the dispute.However, the motion that you have put forward for consideration “That the BCSTA approach the Minister of Education to request an immediate resolution to the BCTF strike through intervention by the BC Legislature for a full return to work” does not honour those positions and statements.

This motion does take sides; it sides with BCPSEA and government.  It does not specifically call for legislation, but legislation to end the dispute is the likely form of intervention the BC Legislature will choose given comments by Minister Abbott and other government officials.

It gives the perception that the conclusion will be in the hands of government and not in the hands of the local board who should be speaking up for students, staff, programs, and the lack of funding in their district.

This motion and supporting rationale contain many points that the teachers of this district find offensive and, quite frankly, unsubstantiated.  Its sentiment, combined with other Board or District actions during the labour dispute, has caused significant and potentially irreparable damage to the relationship you claim you wish to build with your teachers.In your rationale, you state that phase one is “having a serious impact on many students and families in our communities”.

We would argue that it is having minimal impact on students and families.  Teachers are continuing with their instruction. In many cases, our members are reporting, that without the added time required to complete administrivia functions, attend staff meetings, and provide supervision, their lessons and instruction have been improved by utilizing that time to plan, execute, and reflect on lessons and instruction more thoughtfully.

Our strike has not limited extra-curricular activities; many of the sports teams, clubs, and special events that typically happen over the course of the school year are still occurring.  There may be some cases where a teacher has stepped back from these volunteer activities, but that fact cannot be solely attributed to our job action.

A teacher may consider withdrawing their volunteer time to these activities because of a change in their personal situation, time commitment, interest, or simply as a statement reflecting their anger or frustration with a Board that does not appear to respect or appreciate the work we do, either paid or voluntary, as shown through actions such as this motion.

You indicate in your rationale that “assessment and reporting on student performance have been interrupted and inconsistent”. Teachers want to ensure that parents are aware of their child’s progress regardless of job action or not.

We work very hard to provide regular updates to parents and parents have the ability to communicate with their child’s teacher. The fact that communication between parents and teachers is not being constrained by a prescriptive format has allowed for many different types of assessment and reporting.

We do not believe that that consistency and conformity, as is the case with report cards, correlates directly to less effective communication with regard to student assessment and reporting.

In fact, I personally have had conversations with many parents who have indicated both more frequent and more meaningful communication with their child’s teacher this year.

Another point in your rationale indicates that “good communication with professionals in schools, which is essential to planning the best possible educational opportunities and learning environments for students, is not taking place.”

This is simply untrue, communication with professionals are taking place.  During this job action, teachers are continuing to work with our non-enrolling specialists, attend IEP meetings, consult with community agencies, participate in professional learning communities, and attend professional development opportunities to ensure that all the needs of our students are being met.

So, what evidence does the Board have to support this statement? You indicate in your rationale that “District, excluded staff, many without a background in education have been tasked with the responsibility for the supervision of students outside of instructional hours.  The result is deteriorating student behaviour in increasingly less safe schools.”

This statement is not true and does not give credit to your excluded staff for the services they are providing. Supervising students on a playground does not require an educational background; it requires common sense and diligence at adhering to and applying rules and consequences.  At no time did my education degree give me formal instruction in how to supervise students on a playground.

We are not aware of our CUPE colleagues being given formal instruction in supervising strategies to be able to fulfill their lunch hour supervision duties either.  There are many situations in an individual’s life that cause them to supervise children in a variety of situations; do we all need formal training to do this?

The Union is aware of comments made by administrators complementing the behaviour of students on the playground during their supervision duties.  Furthermore, if they district believes that lack of supervision is causing safety concerns, there is a process for addressing such issues, and the district has in fact utilized that process. We have a couple of schools where teachers are providing supervision to ensure that safety is maintained, because safety of students is as much a priority for teachers as it is for you.

Your final statement of the rationale, that “the image of public education in BC, the backbone of our democratic society, is being made a mockery of by the unprofessional display of ineptness at the bargaining table and by the lack of focus on what really matters in this dispute – our learners”  is not only offensive to teachers, but to the individuals representing you at the bargaining table.

We do not believe that either the BCTF or BCPSEA is inept…..they simply have opposing views on how to best serve their members and the learners of BC and are currently at a stalemate.

The provincial bargaining table is supposed to be comprised of representatives of the employees, teachers (BCTF), and the employers, Boards of Education (BCPSEA). But your representatives are being given a mandate from the government, not from you as Boards who they are supposed to represent.   So who exactly is creating the stalemate?

A more supportive motion of teachers and their job action which gets to the heart of the real reason behind the stalemate at the bargaining table is the attached motion from Cowichan. (SEE BELOW)

It supports publicly that teachers are entitled to a fair negotiated collective agreement and that the true stumbling block in achieving this is the mandate that the government has given to your bargaining agent, BCPSEA.  Another, more supportive option would be to pass a motion supporting the BCTF call for mediation in this labour dispute.

If you take into account the points I have already raised as contentious, because they are difficult to measure accurately, the remainder of your points in the rationale give the perception that this motion is about the additional workload on district staff and administrators.  There is no doubt that teacher job action has created additional workload on our administrators and excluded staff.

But in the last decade teacher workload has increased through government and district initiatives such as:  new attendance, report card,  and IEP formats through BCeSIS, new or revised curriculum, FSA, RAD, provincial performance standards, class size and composition, to name a few -all of these without the adequate support to implement them; all of them without a similar motion calling on the government to provide the financial or personnel resources to implement them; all of them initiated without public and collective response from either the administrators or the Board as to the financial burden or the stress and additional workload they have caused on teachers.

It appears one-sided that when the stress is on administrators the Board takes a public stand and calls for action, but when the stress is on teachers, the Board remains publicly quiet.A labour dispute is not easy on either party involved.

It creates tension and uncertainty.  But this action is not significantly affecting students and families. Teachers in this province do not take such actions lightly and we have consideration for the hardship that other actions could cause for families in our communities. We consciously, carefully, and thoughtfully developed an action plan that would highlight the issues and place pressure on government and the employers representatives and not on students and their families.

Again, we respectfully ask that the Board of Education withdraw this motion to the BCSTA Provincial Council and consider a motion of support for the BCTF call for mediation. Your current motion is not respectful of our position and our concerns. It does not show that you wish to remain “neutral” and not take sides.  If withdrawn, it will show that you truly mean what you say and that you want a more positive relationship with your teachers.


And here is the motion passed at the Cowichan School Board Table in  Open Session January 18th 2012  Submitted to the BCPSEA AGM

In that

• Trustees share teachers’ concerns for quality classroom conditions

• Trustees understand our students and our staff are counting on us to press for their best interests and the earliest possible resolution to this dispute

• We are as trustees responsible for the conditions of learning and work in our schools

The Board of Education SD #79 affirms their strong support for a just collective agreement with our teachers immediately which includes improved classroom supports, restored services for students and a fair wage rise.

Further, if BCPSEA is unable to persuade the provincial government to stand down from the net zero mandate model we ask that our representative body BCPSEA step away from its role as bargaining agent for the school boards so the BCTF and the provincial government can negotiate directly.









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