Bill 22 was a hammer where a feather was needed but, thanks to some fancy footwork by mediator Charles Jago, the worst elements of Bill 22 have been rendered moot, an agreement has been reached and B.C.’s public school teachers and their employers will live to fight another day.
While BC Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert characterized the mediation process as a sham, labelled the pressure teachers were under as bullying and the agreement the best that could be achieved under duress, some modest improvements were gained, albeit not in wages. More importantly, the two-year contract ending in 2013 contains few if any of the concessions that had been demanded by the employers, the BC Public School Employers’ Association.
True, there are no improvements in class size and composition language, and the government chose to tighten the screws on teachers with Bill 22 by eliminating limits without giving teachers any of the control they sought in classroom organization. The government claims its $165-million Learning Improvement Fund will allay some of the concerns by putting more teachers and special education assistants in the classroom.
For the coming school year, School District 43 has $1.2 million in extra funds to support large elementary schools and struggling students thanks to strike savings and other surplus funds from this year.
Still, it’s unlikely teachers will be satisfied given their ongoing concerns about what they view as government attacks on their professionalism, autonomy, control over classroom organization and wages. Some of these issues will be addressed through the courts in the hopes that the judicial system will give teachers what the government will not while wages will remain a sticking point when negotiations resume.
For parents, the teachers’ agreement is a relief after months of uncertainty and anxiety, a three-day walk-out and withdrawal of teachers’ support for field trips and other volunteer activities.
But the relief will be short-lived unless the economy turns around, the government changes or it turns out that more money does make a difference to in the classroom — although there will never be enough cash to solve every issue.