Teachers to vote on deal

A tentative negotiated settlement to the impasse between the BCTF and the government may see classes begin next Monday.

A tentative deal has been struck between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the government in the teachers’ strike.

Negotiations between representatives from the BCTF and BCPSEA (BC Public School Employee’s Association, the group which bargains for the government with the teachers’ union) and mediator Vince Ready went on until late in the night on Monday.

When Ready emerged, he announced the tentative settlement. No further details were given such as whether and when teachers would vote on the deal and when school would return.

“We don’t have a lot of details,” said Norm Sabourin, president of the Boundary District Teachers’ Association. “There is a tentative deal signed. There were five days of intense bargaining and in the wee hours of the morning they completed a deal.”

When he spoke to the Gazette Tuesday morning, Sabourin said he had only seen a part of the deal and couldn’t comment on the details.

“The two sides are still working today banging out the details and then the information will be sent out to the teachers in the province,” he said. “We’ll have to then educate ourselves on the deal and the vote will be on Thursday.”

Sabourin expects the results of the teacher’s vote to either accept the deal or not would come Thursday night.

He further predicted that it would likely take two days to get schools ready, which would mean a likely Tuesday return to school.

“I don’t know what was agreed upon,” he said. “If it all ratifies, I’d assume the latest it would start would be Tuesday.”

A post on the Grand Forks Secondary School Facebook site stated that: “It appears likely that students could be back on Monday but we are waiting for details on what may happen and whether any adjustments will be made to the semester length.”

School District 51 superintendent Kevin Argue told the Gazette he wasn’t sure when school would return and wouldn’t know until the deal was set. He added that any decision to adjust the school length would be made at the provincial level by the Ministry of Education.

“We’re very excited and I’m really pleased that it came to a negotiated settlement,” he said. “This is only the second time this has happened between the government and the BCTF. I’m really thankful to both bargaining teams for making it happen. Vince Ready is an amazing person in that he got this to happen.”

Last week, a group of local teachers showed up at the regular school board meeting and serenaded the trustees with a song about the strike.

In addition to the song, several teachers including Sabourin spoke up during comment period to urge the board to support the teachers and speak against the government.

Later in the meeting, trustee Dave Reid handed out a press release from the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) titled “advocacy update.” The release stated that, “We appeal to both sides to move beyond their current positions to make meaningful and real concessions with the assistance of mediator Vince Ready. If the parties will not make the necessary moves to achieve a negotiated settlement, BCSTA strongly encourages a cooling off period that would include a public third party report and non-binding recommendations.”

Sabourin, as well as local teacher David Dunnet, both jumped on the fact that the release, which the local school board supports, does not urge the government to agree to binding arbitration as suggested by the BCTF.

This tells me that the SD51 board of trustees supports the government’s stance, said Dunnet. “This is an insult.”

“This shows you’re not going to fight for us,”

added Sabourin. “This is terrible for morale. You guys have to move the government. This is a copout.” Sabourin urged the board to fight for the teachers. “We need you as trustees and district management here to put the message out in a very hard and clear way.

“I hope you take a very hard line on this and demand this Liberal government set binding arbitration in order to get schools open and kids back.”

Board chair Teresa Rezansoff, who is also president of the BCSTA, told the Gazette that the board will be formulating their own letter to be sent from SD51 regarding the strike.

Rezansoff clarified that the letter that was passed around at the board meeting was simply an advocacy update from the BCSTA and not a letter from SD51.

The letter from the board of trustees was released on Sept. 12 and stated: “We have heard from many parents, community members and staff and we share your sense of frustration and disappointment with the current labour dispute between the government of British Columbia and the BCTF.

As trustees we are deeply concerned by the effects of this unsettled labour dispute on the learning and social/emotional well-being of our students. We believe a continuation of this dispute will have significant short and long-term negative impacts on our students and the public education system.”

The letter went on to ask the government to increase funding, recommend that teachers receive a fair wage increase, make the strike savings accrued available to the bargaining table, and ensure that any settlement reached with the BCTF be fully funded by the government.

“We are very concerned about that,” said Rezansoff. “Our biggest message is we want to see our students back in school and our teachers back in school and we want to be able to get to an agreement that works for everybody.”

She said if both sides could not come to an agreement then they would agree with the BCSTA in a call for a third-party report with non-binding recommendations.