Students and teachers return to class

Spring break ends, no more walk outs planned – at least for the moment

Spring break is over and school is back in session as usual – likely until at least mid-month.

On April 17 and 18 B.C. Teachers’ Federation members will once again vote on whether or not to further resist Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act. The decision was made during the BCTF’s annual general meeting March 17 through 22.

The Act was passed March 15 following months of work-to-rule job action by the province’s 41,000 teachers and a provincewide walkout March 5. The legislation includes fines of $1.3 million a day for the union and $475 a day for individual teachers who continue to strike – an action plan the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association asked some 700 teachers’ association delegates to support at the AGM.

GVTA delegates distributed buttons and leaflets asking other associations not to return to work until there is a genuine negotiation, mediation, or arbitration process and the fines are dropped.

The document addresses fears of fines as well as of wages lost during a walkout.

“First, there may be no lost days,” it reads. “The threat of a walkout is often enough to get the employer back to the table and more willing to negotiate.”

The leaflet goes on to discuss a potential loss of public support given wage negotiations. Due to teachers’ great work, it reads, polls reflect significant public support for their issues, including a pay increase.

“We were not alone,” Tara Ehrcke, GVTA president said of the plan not to return to the classroom after spring break. “We presented that as an option during the debate and it wasn’t exactly what was chosen in the end, but the plan that was adopted includes a future vote for a full withdrawal.”

If supported by the membership next month, the BCTF’s “bold plan of action” will include a withdrawal of extracurricular voluntary activities and incite a second vote on whether or not to stage another walkout. It also includes a public education component. Several individual teachers’ associations have chosen to act outside of BCTF directives, such as the Sooke School District, which voted in favour of withdrawing extracurricular voluntary activities immediately.

The GVTA was set to meet Monday, after the News’ deadline. Members will have the chance to discuss their next course of action, Ehrcke said, confirming individual associations’ autonomy.

Regardless of action, students will receive their end of year report cards. Teachers did not and have no intentions of issuing March report cards, Ehrcke said. The legal move under their work-to-rule job action was approved by the MInistry of Education and explained to parents by Greater Victoria School District superintendent John Gaiptman in a March 8 letter sent home with students.

Bill 22 reinstates restrictions on class size and composition support that the Liberals stripped from Bills 27 and 28 – action which was deemed unconstitutional in a Supreme Court ruling last spring.

“To take out of Bill 27 and 28 what was ruled unconstitutional and put it right back in Bill 22 word-for word – of course we’re going back to court,” said Jim Iker, BCTF first vice-president. “What we wanted was an independent mediator or arbitrator, instead what we got was a sham mediation process.”

Education Minister George Abbott is expected to appoint a mediator sometime this week upon his return from a trip to China.

Teachers’ average base salaries 2011-12

Greater Victoria $69,512

Saanich $72,498

Sooke $69,612