The Central Okanagan Board of Education boardroom offered some insight last Wednesday to what could be a contentious round of upcoming negotiations on a new teachers’ contract.
Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association, voiced her displeasure about a document circulated to school boards across the province earlier this year by the B.C. Public School Employers Association asking for input on “five big ideas” concerning the next round of contract negotiations.
She voiced her frustration that among those ideas were teacher workload and professional teacher learning enhancement, which no trustees had sought her input about.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Bauhart said she had just been made aware of the document and wanted to know what the trustees felt about those particular issues and how they relate to teachers given the trustees are the elected stewards of the public education system.
“Trustees have every right to form their own opinions on these issues, but I would just like to ensure they are expressing informed opinions related to teachers,” Bauhart told Black Press after the meeting.
The trustees said nothing to Bauhart’s inquiries, deferring to school district administrator/CEO Kevin Kaardal to speak on the board’s behalf. He said it was essentially groundwork for the BCPSEA, establishing negotiating positions in advance of the contract talks.
“We need to hear the full views of our trustees as they are elected to represent everyone in the school system,” Bauhart countered.
While the class size legal resolution has largely resulted in hiring more teachers, Bauhart said classroom composition remains a point of dispute overshadowed by a pending arbitrator’s ruling, expected by Jan. 31, 2019.
In 2002, the provincial government passed legislation that removed all learning conditions, including all class size and class composition limits, from the collective agreements.
Following the Supreme Court of Canada decision in November 2016, the provincial government was required to reinstate that contract language.
Since then, new data from the provincial government shows class sizes in British Columbia have significantly improved, noting in the 2017-18 school year, there were 45 per cent fewer classes with more than 30 students than the previous year and class-size averages are down across the board.
But BCTF president Glen Hansman said class composition still faces challenges that will require additional investment by the provincial government, and more attention by individual school districts.
“Class composition is more complex because of differences in local collective agreement language as well as district student assessment and staffing processes. For example, about a third of our local teachers’ associations don’t have any class composition language. There are also differences among school districts in how employers implemented class-composition requirements,” Hansman said.
In the past, the province has tracked the number of classes with four or more students with special needs. Comparing 2016-17 to 2017-18, the number of classes with four children with special needs has increased by 0.9 per cent.
“B.C. teachers fully support the inclusion of children with special needs in our classrooms and the need for the specialized programs and staff that support them,” Hansman said.
“The B.C. government and school districts need to put more efforts into creating classes that ensure all children get the attention they need. We should not be seeing this degree of inconsistency around the province, and it is always within the ability of the province and school districts to ensure services are in place for students above and beyond a bare minimum.”
Bauhart noted that reinstated contract language was 16 years old, and much has changed in particular with classroom composition and demands for special needs and learning assistance students since then, changes that must be adapted to the next contract from the BCTF’s perspective.
“For example, the category of students diagnosed with autism has ballooned from 16 years ago, so how do we deal with that?” she said. “The arbitrator’s ruling is expected to set a baseline for defining these special needs categories like autism, what each one means and how that is addressed in classroom composition.”
“I can’t speak for their side, but we are very interested in this arbitration ruling,” she added.
Bauhart said the BCTF, which gathered its teacher association reps from across the province last weekend to formulate its upcoming contract policy positions, would have preferred to start the negotiation process earlier than March, but the BCPSEA has said no because of the pending trustee elections this month and the arbitrator’s ruling on classroom composition standards.
“I don’t think this next contract negotiations will be as easy as some people seem to think,” she said.