Broken system is holding students in B.C. hostage

Broken system is holding students in B.C. hostage
Delta Optimist
Vicki Huntington
Date Published: 
Wed, 09/10/2014

It beggars belief the BCTF and the B.C. government have achieved nothing over the summer. And it is beyond frustrating that these two parties, who couldn't even get to a mediated discussion, are also unable to agree on going to arbitration.

So the immediate future of our children continues to be held hostage by dysfunctional parties that are utterly unable to engage in rational discussion - even with a referee.

This isn't an easy issue, especially if you have some sympathy for both sides. It is complicated and we have a standoff, and it helps no one when all we hear are rhetoric and spin. (To explore details of the proposals, it is worth going to the B.C. Public School Employers' Association website at www.BCPSEA. I couldn't find a similar comparison on the BCTF site.)

As of this moment, we have an offer by the BCTF to go to binding arbitration. BCTF would let the arbitrator decide on salary, benefits, signing bonus and preparation time if the government removes items before the Court of Appeal (class size and composition and staffing ratios) from the bargaining table and separately negotiates a new fund for learning needs.

While it seems to be a pretty significant offer, the fact is the province is not only fiscally terrified of the judicial decisions on class size and composition, it also doesn't want to increase its $375 million Learning Fund (or let the BCTF administer the fund). The province is also adamant that preparation time must remain part of the total compensation package.

They can't agree to mediate. They can't agree to arbitrate. So where are they? Better yet, where are our children?

Why are they playing Russian roulette with our children? Because each side interprets the court ruling differently and it is the language of the ruling that is being appealed. Millions, if not billions, of dollars rest on that interpretation.

Why would teachers give up the results of two judicial decisions agreeing they had been treated illegally? Similarly, why wouldn't the province appeal to the top and stall class size negotiations for as long as it can? The government can boast about Triple A credit ratings and a balanced budget, but the fact is the province isn't doing well and can't afford all the demands of the BCTF ... even if it wanted to.

I can also tell you that our teachers feel undervalued, and not just financially. They are well educated and by and large care deeply about children. And when you look at teachers' pay across Canada, B.C. doesn't fare all that well.

A way through this dispute has to be found, and I don't think it's going to happen without binding arbitration. If it goes against the province, so be it, the government will have some hard policy decisions to make.

But at least our children will be secure in knowing they can go to school, learn, graduate and set out on life with the foundation they have a right - a right - to expect from the adults of this province.

I fear for students and their families and how this is affecting their lives and their futures. I feel for teachers whose class composition interferes with learning and contributes to exhaustion and frustration. And while I have sympathy for a government struggling with insufficient resources, I do not have patience for bull-headed union busting.

Both parties need to get on with it. Negotiations are broken. Mediate in good faith or agree to binding arbitration. Then take this shattered process apart and fix it.

We have the right to demand that you let our children come first.

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