School start delayed by teacher strike

The start of the 2014-2015 school year is disrupted for the second week as talks between teachers and government remain stalled.

“When your child is born and you imagine all their firsts – this is not what I imagined for my child’s first day of Kindergarten

With no settlement between the teachers and the government, parents had to find other options for their children.

With reknowned negotiator Vince Ready on hand and both sides meeting for long hours, it was hoped a settlement could be made before school started, unfortunately the sides were too far apart.

Teacher’s began limited job action last March before escalating to a full-blown walk-out in June, just before final exams.

Key issues in the contract dispute are wages, class composition and class size.

In a press release on Aug. 30, Peter Fassbender, minister of education, stated, “Today veteran labour mediator Vince Ready determined that the parties are too far apart for mediation at this time. I’m very disappointed for students, parents and teachers. What should be a time of excitement and anticipation will instead be marked by frustration and uncertainty.”

Fassbender went on to say he couldn’t see any quick or easy solutions, and wouldn’t know when school would return.

“Everything we’ve tried to do was to have schools open on time and to reach a settlement,” he said. “Unfortunately, the BCTF leadership has stubbornly refused every effort to reach a fair deal and they have even refused to give teachers a chance to vote on suspending the pickets while an agreement is mediated.”

Fassbender added that the government is not interested in legislating an end to the dispute.

In a BCTF press release send out on the same day, president Jim Iker said, “After two days of work with Vince Ready, it has become clear that the government is not prepared to find a fair settlement that will get BC’s students and teachers back in classrooms. The BCTF team tried to kick start meaningful talks by dropping some proposals entirely and reducing others substantially. In total, our moves today reduced our package by $125 million. Unfortunately, the government did not indicate they were willing to make any meaningful moves in return.”

Iker also added that what the government negotiators are insisting for at the bargaining table would undo any future court decision.

“Does the government really expect the teachers to bargain away everything the BC Supreme Court has already awarded us? And what future decisions might bring?”

Teachers across the province returned to the picket lines last week and are set to continue until there is a settlement.

Local teacher David Dunnet said the strike has been tough on teachers but is necessary. Dunnet, a math and science teacher at Grand Forks Secondary School, has three school-aged children. On Saturday, he wrote a letter to MLA Linda Larson:

“I am writing today to share my disappointment with you. I live in Grand Forks and have three children who should be starting school on Tuesday. For my youngest son it was to be his first day of Kindergarten. He is very excited to finally be going to ‘big kids school.’ However, instead of putting on his backpack and walking to school with his older brother and sister for the first time he will be playing at home.”

Dunnet then asks Larson, “why does your government continue to stonewall in the negotiation with the teachers. You have lost twice in court and now you are trying to negotiate a clause to get yourself off the hook. What teacher in their right mind would agree to something like that?”

Dunnet urges Larson to take action and make her voice heard in the Liberal party. “Strong schools make for a strong society,” he wrote. “Your voice is needed. You must take action. My children deserve to be in school. All children school have that right. You are standing in there way. The time for action is now.”

In an interview with the Gazette, Dunnet said he believes in unions and their ability to make people’s lives better.

“For me, I feel this is a bigger fight than just what we’re fighting now,” he said. “I think society is moving in a certain direction, I feel we’re trying to hold it back. As least that’s how I see it. Even though I’m frustrated because I’m not working and I’m not getting paid—when I teach I want to give 100 per cent and give it everything—being in that situation where I can’t I feel I’m hurting myself in this action but I feel this is the only action I have to take. I wish their was some other action to take.”

Dunnet said he realizes how the strike is making it tough on kids and parents, but he believes the alternate is far worse.

“It’s either take this action which seems to hurt everyone especially ourselves, or take no action and let the situation just degrade and degrade,” he said. “I want to be in school and teaching, but I don’t think we can keep giving into this agenda. I feel like we’re holding the line. If they manage to break us and take the schools down with us then I don’t know where it ends.”

Dunnet said being a math teacher he is always budget conscious. He and his wife have been able to save money and are making out okay.

“We weren’t able to do renovations in our house this year,” he said. “We went to (swimming) provincials in Kamloops and camped instead of stayed in a hotel. We haven’t had to make any tough decisions yet. If we were out in November we’ll have to make tough decisions.”

Dunnet said he does know of some teachers who are struggling with having not been paid during the strike.

“I think there’s people at all levels,” he said. “Some have spouses that work. Those that have both spouses teach—it’s tough.”

Dunnet added that support has been mostly positive from the community although he feels there is a portion of the public that doesn’t agree. “For every 20 honks and smiles, we get maybe one person saying we should get back to work,” he said.

“Most people I talk to they love their kid’s teacher. They’re really happy with what their kids are doing in school but when you get to this broad idea of teachers, suddenly we’re a bad group of people who want too much and are lazy. There’s a disconnect between someone’s teacher and teachers as a whole.”