Teachers ratify deal restoring collective agreement language

By on March 19, 2017

Expect to see a few changes in School District 58 this fall as work begins this spring to implement restored collective agreement language at the local level.

Teachers across the province voted overwhelmingly in favour of ratifying a letter of understanding (LOU) between their union and the provincial government that restores class size and composition language removed from their collective agreement 15 years ago.

In total 21,156 voting 98.4 per cent in favour of the agreement earlier this month. Individual district vote percentages are not provided.

Nicola Valley Teacher’s Union Peter Vogt said local voter turnout was strong amongst SD 58 teachers.

The agreement brings that language into the existing collective agreement, which expires in 2019. Staffing levels are to be in place for the next school term.

The focus will now shift to the collective agreement-based school staffing processes that will begin later this month as well as holding the government accountable for its commitment to fully fund all the costs, B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) President Glen Hansman said in a press release.

Vogt said implementing the restored language now becomes part of the district’s spring planning process for the 2017-18 school year.

“Usually that process begins [in] April [which] is the sketching out of things and then [the school district] usually comes up with a plan that we sit down and talk about [in] the early part of May,” said Vogt.

“We’ll see some changes in our class sizes at the Kindergarten level, primary and again at the high school level with our shops and labs,” said SD 58 superintendent Steve McNiven. “We’re not far off those [required] staffing levels in many cases right now.”

McNiven said additional staffing for next year will be driven by class configuration at the elementary level, and scheduling and choice at the secondary level, which is still to be determined.

He said the district’s ratios for non-enrolling teachers – special education teachers, learning assistant teachers, counsellors and librarians – will be reviewed this spring to meet the new agreement.

“We’re fairly close to those ratios, if not ahead, but we’ve got to look at those between now and June as well,” said McNiven.

This agreement between the government and the BCTF came as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of the union on its right to bargain class size limits and composition during contract talks.

That decision, issued last November, restored contract language from 2002 that was removed from the collective agreement by then-education minister Christy Clark.

“A whole generation of students have gone without the frontline service they ought to have had during the entirety of their K-12 experience, but we are proud that we’re able to turn our Supreme Court of Canada victory into positive change so quickly,” said Hansman in the press release.

SD 58 board chair Gordon Comeau said he’s hoping the cost of implementing the agreement will be fully funded by the province.

“The ministry’s indicated they fully intend to fund it, so we’re going to have to hold their feet to the fire on that one,” said Comeau.

He told the Herald SD 58 will determine how many more teachers the district will need to hire to meet the conditions of this agreement and then send the bill to the government.

As an interim step following the court ruling, the provincial government allocated $50 million to immediately hire teachers. That resulted in $241,800 being allocated to SD 58, and an additional eight teachers were hired to either full-time or part-time contracts. Another three were given extensions on their current contracts.

Vogt said he feels the new teachers already hired on thanks to that interim funding injection already had a profound effect on reducing class sizes in the district.

“Especially at MSS where shop [class] sizes were up in the 26 to 30 [students] range and now they’re back down around 24,” said Vogt.


— with files from Kamloops This Week

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