Terrace teachers will be working long hours over the weekend to ready classrooms so students can finally take to their desks Monday, three weeks into the scheduled school year.
After a bitter months-long battle, a new six-year collective agreement was hashed out between the province and its teachers’ union thanks to the help of mediator Vince Ready early last week.
B.C. teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of the contract Sept. 18 and school boards voted unanimously to ratify it Friday, allowing for a Monday start to the school year.
The agreement gives teachers a 7.25 per cent raise over six years, a $105 million fund to cover retroactive grievances, and $400 million to go towards hiring new teachers and specialists. The government also withdrew the controversial Article E80, which the union says was an attempt by the government to bargain around earlier Supreme Court decisions that reinforced teachers’ rights to bargain class size and composition issues.
Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) board chair Art Erasmus said he is “totally pleased” that school was able to start this week, adding that frustrations were mounting across the district as the school year entered its third week without classes.
“And then all of the sudden the clouds raised and everything got done and there was a tentative agreement. It was highly unpredictable as to when that would happen. People were getting pretty frustrated,” he said.
While teachers are rushing to get classrooms ready in time, Erasmus said the major cleaning of the schools had been done by support staff workers before picket lines went up.
“There are some little maintenance projects that couldn’t get done when the pickets were there … those will have to be done when school is already in session but there’s nothing to preclude kids from being in classes,” he said.
And news that the school year won’t be extended to make up for lost time is fine by him.
Extending the school year would’ve “just added another wrinkle,” he said.
“We have kids who go on holidays with their parents for extended periods, kids that are sick for extended periods and we don’t have an extended school for those reasons, so I’m convinced that the necessary curriculum can and will be covered in the time that’s available,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in favour of [extending the school year] because it would just add another issue to argue over. We had long discussions when we went from a one-week to a two-week spring break … It’s a long discussion and I don’t think we need any long discussions for the next little while.”
The province is set to release details surrounding how strike savings will be passed onto districts this week, and parents should expect a cheque from the province’s $40 a day for students under 12 promise in their mailboxes in the coming months. Erasmus said some school districts and the school trustees’ association would have liked that $40 a day to have been kept in the education system.
But the fact that the collective agreement will be funded by the ministry is “good news,” he said, and “there are some sums of money in the agreement that will add to the amount of money available to classroom and composition, so there’s more money coming into the system. Where that’s coming from, they haven’t told us, whether that’s part of the savings or not, they haven’t told us that.”
The CMSD board has its first meeting of the year this Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 5 p.m.