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Court ruling puts class size, composition back on bargaining table

Thanks to a ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court, class size and composition should be back on the table as teachers and the province negotiate a new collective agreement.

The B.C. Liberals and teachers have been in a long-standing feud, with the two issues amongst those at the forefront. The Liberals passed Bill 28 in 2002, which stripped negotiation rights for class size and composition, something that was deemed unconstitutional in 2011. The Liberals subsequently passed Bill 22 in 2012 to address the issue but in her decision Monday, Justice Susan Griffin ruled Bill 22 was “virtually identical” to Bill 28.

Nanaimo District Teachers' Association president Mike Ball was happy with the announcement and said the ruling will have a bearing on how the B.C. Teachers' Federation teachers' union approaches the current round of negotiations.

“It means we have a starting point when we talk about class size and class composition now, it means that we already have that language back in play to start from,” Ball said. “[Griffin] quite clearly said that the two sides can continue to bargain from there but they have to bargain in good faith, they can't just ignore it now. Our expectation will be that those class sizes and compositions will be put back and they will be honoured by the school boards.”

The current contract between the province and the teachers expired June 30 and while the federation was expecting a salary proposal last week, Ball said it is hoping to see the proposal at the next bargaining date on Feb. 6.

“We're hoping that that will come, we're hoping that it will be a reasonable salary offer, that it will meet teachers' needs because we've taken zeroes over the last two years and now another third zero,” said Ball, adding there has been five per cent inflation over the last three years.

The provincial government will also have to pay $2 million in damages to the teachers' federation. The Ministry of Education said it will examine Griffin's ruling before deciding on its next course of legal action. An appeal is possible.

"What we need to do is to review the judge's ruling in detail to see what the implications are, but clearly my message to school districts, to parents, is it's business as usual in our schools," said Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

More than 1,200 educational staff were said to be affected in 2002. B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said he expects school districts across the province will have to do some rehiring in order to keep class sizes down.

Nanaimo school board chairwoman Dot Neary said it is too soon to comment on how Monday's ruling will affect the school district and the 2014-15 budget.

“There's no way of knowing what the ramifications are for individual districts or the education system as a whole I think until the air's clear,” Neary said. “Until the government's done its review, we're in holding mode; we're just waiting to see what the outcome might be and what the impact might be for districts and that's across the board.”

Negotiations are scheduled for February and early March as well, according to Ball.

– With files from Tom Fletcher

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