ELECTION 2014: Low profile election, high stakes for teachers

City of Kelowna: School Board election to be closely watched by teachers.

The public outpouring over the duration of the recent teachers’ strike proved that education is a hot-button issue for British Columbians.

Community participation with the governing body closest to teachers—the school board—is, however, low. At a meeting where trustees decided how $4 million was to be cut from local schools’ budgets, a half dozen parents and teachers were in attendance. Meetings with less contentious issues draw even fewer participants.

Front and centre at that meeting, like every other, was Susan Bauhart, who was fulfilling her role as president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association —a group that can’t turn a blind eye to the happenings in district boardrooms.

“When it comes to voting for school trustees, it’s almost like electing a boss,” she said, adding the caveat that the superintendent is actually the boss, although the board hires for that position.

“We obviously interact a great deal, so teachers are very interested in who the future school trustees are.”

To get a feel for what the candidates have to offer, COTA along with the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Committee, hosted a forum Thursday night. Questions gathered from teachers were given to participants and they were offered a chance to share their views on the biggest issues facing teachers.

Bauhart said the questions had to do largely with funding to public education.

“That has to be first and foremost,” she said. “And, of course, the whole class size and composition matter is important, as is the direction the ministry is taking with 21st Century Learning, the new provincial learning plan.”

Education, she said, is changing. The old stand up in front of the class and deliver methodology is falling to the wayside, and teachers are now being set up in a facilitator type role.

As changes roll out, trustees will have influence over how that happens through various committees they’re connected to.

It’s ultimately the province, however, that holds the purse strings and money is what teachers say is most needed for local schools.

Bauhart said results from the recent strike had some benefit to local schools,  although not as much as hoped.

“Did teachers get what we wanted, absolutely not,” she said. “We made gains, but it was small.”

Funds from the education fund, which was a big part of the agreement, will amount to hiring 6.5 new teachers locally.

“They’re in the throes of figuring that out now,” said Bauhart.

Schools have identified their needs and the district will sift through the applications by the end of the week.

“We will meet with (the superintendent) to see submissions and try to get the most bang for the buck,” she said.

At that point they’ll see where the support can be put to assist higher need schools, or schools where there are challenges in terms of class composition.

“That’s one of the things that has come out of the job action, it’s a small step and a start, ” she said.

There’s also a court decision on class size and composition looming, and that decision should be released in the spring.