This school year is ending on a more positive note than the last one, when teachers were on picket lines, graduating students worried about finals and grades and some parents scrambled to arrange child care.
There’s no absence of tension on some fronts, however, within the Sooke School District.
The Sooke Teachers’ Association (STA) has added its voice to a provincial grievance filed by B.C. Teachers’ Federation locals with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, disputing pay received for September, when teachers returned to work mid-month.
If the BCTF wins its grievance, it could result in an estimated shared payout of up to $350,000 for teachers in the Sooke School District. It is not known at this point how any judgment would financially affect SD62.
While the dispute over the partial month’s pay has been ongoing for months in other districts, STA president Ian Johnson says his association only recently joined the grievance, after the union was unable to come to an agreement with SD62 on a payout.
“We were led to believe we’d been paid properly,” he says. “We weren’t even aware we’d been short-paid for September until after the trustee election (in November).”
The issue, Johnson says, is “having a tremendous impact on labour relations in the district. It’s really difficult to have been told that you’re going to be paid eight days, (but only get paid for 6.3).”
The issue stems from the clauses in the agreements between teachers’ associations and their districts that dictate how teachers are paid for partial months worked.
In the Sooke district, the pay issue is complicated by the interpretation of the contract wording, which presents two clauses for how to deal with partial-month pay. One formula subtracts days not worked from the monthly pay total, while the other counts days worked and adds them up.
Johnson claims the district could have used the “days worked” formula, which would have seen teachers paid for eight days in September.
He also claims SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge called him on Sept. 18 to tell him that’s what was going to happen.
Cambridge admits making that phone call, adding he does not deny that the union’s math is correct and that they were paid based on the less generous of the formulas in the agreement.
He does disagree about a key component of the STA’s argument, however.
“He’s right that there are two ways to pay for a partial month,” Cambridge says. “He’s not correct when he says (we had) a choice of which one to use.”
The clause which deducts pay for days not worked, Cambridge says, is for continuing teachers who are already under contract with the district before the beginning of the month for which the pay is being calculated, while the clause which counts the number of days worked is for new hires.
“In the event that a teacher commenced work on a day other than the first working school day in that month,” reads the “days worked” clause, “or terminates on a day other than the last working day of that month, the formula for payment for that month shall be based on the percentage of days worked of the total number of instructional days (inclusive of district approved non-instructional days).”
Because the teachers who were continuing with the district from the year before were not “commencing work” in mid-September – but rather continuing their employment with the district after time off – the clause for continuing teachers applied to those instructors, Cambridge says.
He also says that his preference would have been to pay the teachers under the more generous clause, but was told it was not an option.
“I did appeal to government, along with Harold (Cull, secretary/treasurer, SD62) to see if there was any way we could pay teachers (under the more generous clause), and were sent a letter back saying, unequivocally, no,” Cambridge said.
SD62 board of trustees chair Wendy Hobbs also sent a letter directly to Minister of Education Peter Fassbender.
“It has been brought to the Board’s attention that due to a quirk in the collective agreement,” states the letter, dated March 2, 2015, “teachers were paid much less than the eight days worked last September.”
The letter contends that while “our finance department correctly used the appropriate clause (in the collective agreement),” the result was that, as the Teachers’ Association claims, “teachers actually being paid for 6.3 days instead of the eight days worked.”
“Our secretary-treasurer and superintendent have appealed to Ministry staff for an adjustment to the September strike savings to no avail,” reads the letter. “The Board requests that the Minister reconsider this decision so that teachers can be correctly compensated for days worked.”
The reply from Assistant Deputy Minister of Education Deborah Fayed reads, in part, “The Ministry of Education would, ultimately, like to see a move to a common provincial collective agreement, where there is consistency across all school districts do that this kind of situation can be avoided in the future. However, for the time being, as per the direction that has been provided, school districts must continue to abide by the language in their local collective agreement, or, if they choose not to do so and pay teachers a higher amount, must find funding from somewhere within their operating budget to cover these additional costs.”
So basically, SD62 was told they could pay the teachers based on the more generous formula, but it would be coming out of their own pocket.
Johnson says if that’s what has to be done to get his membership what they earned, that’s what should happen.
“We recognize that this is going to cost the district money. We’re not naive to that fact,” he says, but the relations between the employees and the employer are such that something needs to be done.
If the school district truly believes, as they say, in their assertion that teachers should receive “a day’s pay for a day’s work,” Johnson says, they need to back that up and pay the teachers what they are owed.
“Instead,” he says, “they are hiding behind the language of the collective agreement.”
As for what’s next in the disagreement, Cambridge says it’s up to the two parties – the BCTF and BCPSEA to settle the grievance.
“It’s a policy grievance at the provincial level,” Cambridge said, so it’s essentially out of SD62’s hands at this point. “It will be solved at the provincial level in Vancouver, not over here.”