Educators express concerns about Bill 22

NANAIMO – Teachers believe proposed Education Improvement Act will lead to larger classes and leave little for teachers to bargain.

Teachers believe the province’s proposed Education Improvement Act will lead to larger classes and leave little for teachers to bargain.

Bill 22, introduced two weeks ago and expected to be passed into law Thursday (March 15), suspends strike action by teachers, appoints a mediator to facilitate bargaining and introduces a new $165-million fund to help teachers meet complex needs in classrooms.

Kip Wood, second vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said part one of the bill, which imposes a cooling-off period and sets out the terms for a mediator, is problematic because it removes the union’s ability to put pressure on the government to reach a deal and it maintains the province’s ‘net-zero’ mandate.

But teachers’ problems with the bill don’t stop there.

The second part of the legislation includes a list of things that cannot be in a collective agreement, said Wood, including class-size limits.

He said the list reintroduces word-for-word the legislation that is repealed earlier in the bill in response to last year’s B.C. Supreme Court decision on Bills 27 and 28, which found parts of the 2002 legislation unconstitutional.

Combined with the mediator’s terms of reference, which allows for no salary or benefit increases unless savings are found elsewhere in the collective agreement, the result is the union will be unable to bargain improvements to working conditions or salary and benefits, Wood said.

“If both of those things are removed, then what have you got left?” Wood said. “Teachers are looking at [Bill 22] and going, ‘We don’t have the ability to bargain at all.'”

The legislation restores teachers’ ability to bargain class size next year.

 

The legislation removes the requirement of obtaining teacher consent for Grades 4-7 classes that exceed 30 students and consulting with teachers for Grades 8-12 classes that exceed the 30-student limit and replaces it with compensation for teachers with over-sized classes.

The requirement to consult with teachers over classes with more than three students with individual education plans is also removed.

Wood said that will mean larger classes at the Grades 4-7 level, as up until now, classes at that level have remained at 30 students or fewer, while secondary classes are often over the limit.

Last fall, there were 95 over-sized classes at the secondary level in Nanaimo and only one at the elementary level.

“Teachers are not interested in extra compensation for larger classes,” said Wood. “That just pits teachers against teachers and commodifies students.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, is worried about where the money will come from for this compensation.

“The idea of offering them bonus money is problematic,” he said. “First of all, the question is where are we going to get the money if that happens?”

Brennan is also concerned that the mediator’s mandate, to achieve an agreement that includes “effective feedback and evaluation of teachers to promote improvement, alignment of professional development with teaching needs, and scheduling and selection of teachers suited to student needs”, could mean forcing some items the employer was seeking, but are unpopular with teachers, into contracts.

Proposals from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association include filling vacant positions based on four factors, including “suitability to the position as determined by the principal or designate” with seniority used as a tie-breaker and having the employer oversee and implement professional development programs.

“If you actually look at it, you’d see this gives the employer what it wants in bargaining,” Brennan said. “I imagine there is some anger and some resentment.”

Wood said teachers are angry, but also despondent.

“They do not feel like they’ve been treated fairly,” he said. “It devalues our work and it discredits public education.”

But teachers won’t give up the resistance to Bill 22, Wood added.

Education Minister George Abbott said the instances where classes go over 30 students will be exceptional and more than 99 per cent of classes are 32 students or less.

In a press release issued last week, he said there is room to compromise and seek agreement through mediation on the full range of issues each party brought to the table – the mediator must attempt to address the local-provincial split of bargaining issue – as well as the issues of importance to the employer listed above.

“The mediator’s mandate is a balanced one – seeking to address issues of importance to both sides in this dispute,” he said.

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