John Stubbs Memorial school principal Garry Manhas watches over elementary students during recess on Wednesday. Administrators and managers are taking over supervising students while teachers are on a limited job action.

John Stubbs Memorial school principal Garry Manhas watches over elementary students during recess on Wednesday. Administrators and managers are taking over supervising students while teachers are on a limited job action.

Teachers start year with quiet job action

Administrators scramble to organize playground supervision

Administrators scramble to organize playground supervision

As they shook off the lazy days of summer and rolled into classrooms Tuesday, students might be hard pressed to notice their teachers are on strike.

Teachers cracked open textbooks and dove into lesson plans as expected, but for tasks such as playground supervision or writing report cards, educators are off the job.

It’s not an ideal way to kick off a school year, but the local teachers’ union says  “teach only” job action is necessary to pressure the government to restore funding for student services.

“Our No. 1 main issue is class size and composition. Specialized teachers and special needs programs continue to erode year after year,” said Patrick Henry, president of the Sooke Teachers’ Association. “This (job action) is about restoring services to students.”

Teachers are ignoring emails and notices distributed by management, among other administrative duties, but they will continue to meet with parents individually and participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports or clubs.

“The only difference is teachers are not on a timetable or schedule supplied by administration,” Henry said. “Administrative duties take away from time to teaching. Teachers are going to be focused on teaching kids as much as possible.”

The most noticeable changes within SD 62 schools could be harried administrators, most who are supervising playgrounds before and after school and during breaks, along with keeping up with day-to-day duties.

Staff from the district office in Langford are also rotating through a dozen schools as playground supervisors.

“Administrators have the largest burden,” said superintendent Jim Cambridge, who pulled playground duty at Poirier elementary in Sooke on Tuesday. “The principals and vice-principals have got to do their own work and supervise as well. It will be challenging for those folks.”

Under the work-to-rule action, teachers will ignore a long list of administrative duties, such as responding to or reading emails or printed materials distributed by administrators, attending meetings called by management, creating and distributing report cards, or directing provincially mandated exams.

John Stubbs Memorial school principal Garry Manhas said it will be hard to get into usual routines of meetings and communication, such as notices sent home with students.

“We’ll just try to get information out in a different way,” Manhas said while keep a watch over elementary kids at recess. “(Administrators) are in the middle of this. It’s not a place we want to be, but we’ll do our best to keep things as-is as much as possible.”

“It’s not business as usual, definitely the schools look and feel different,” Cambridge remarked. “But principals and vice-principals are doing a great job and minimizing how this looks for parents and the kids.”

Henry noted that teachers will step in and supervise kids outside of classroom hours when no alternative staff are available. Cambridge said this could be necessary if the job action is prolonged.

The Sooke Teachers’ Association and SD 62 management say they have an excellent working relationship and open lines of communication. Henry said unfortunately, that goodwill doesn’t extend to the provincial government.

It’s been 15 years since the teachers’ union and the province hashed out a negotiated contract, he said.

“The rest have been imposed, and I’ll expect they’ll do it again. They’ll bring in legislation to impose a contract when they feel it’s necessary.”

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants class size and composition restored to collective bargaining rights, which the province stripped in 2002, an action the B.C. Supreme Court has since ruled was illegal.

Teachers also say they are looking for pay parity in line with colleagues across Canada. B.C. teachers on average are paid less than school districts in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and the northern territories, according to the BCTF.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the government’s negotiating arm, argues by its reckoning that B.C. teachers are the fourth best paid in the country and  BCTF compensation demands would sum to more than $ 2 billion — a claim the union flatly denies.

“We’ve talked about a fair settlement for parity across the country,” Henry said. “But there’s been no proposal with a specific percentage or salary demand.”