Deal reached with school support staff, but teachers still long way off

Tentative agreement struck with school support staff union, but little progress being made on deal with the province’s teachers.

A new tentative agreement has been struck with the union representing school support staff, but little progress has been made on a deal with the province’s teachers.

When asked how negotiations were going with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, Alan Chell, the chair of the Revelstoke Board of Education and a member of the B.C. Public School Employers Association’s (BCPSEA) bargaining team, responded: “It’s not.”

Jennifer Wolney, the acting-president of the Revelstoke Teachers’ Association, was similarly downbeat about the negotiations.

“They’re very polarized, they’re very far apart and they’re having difficulty finding common ground,” she said.

On a positive note, on Thursday, BCPSEA did reach a tentative deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – the union that represents the province’s teacher’s assistants, librarians, maintenance workers and other support staff.

The two-year agreement adheres to the provincial government’s mandate of no cost increases in all union contracts (known as the net-zero mandate). However, education assistants will receive an extra $7.5 million in funding for 46 more minutes work per week.

The money comes from a $165 million fund announced by education minister George Abbott in October that provides more money to boost education for special-needs students.

A final agreement still needs to be reached between local bargaining teams but Chell was confident that would be done by the Feb. 29, 2012 deadline. “The provincial framework’s the key,” he said. “Once that’s in place, the rest will follow along.”

Negotiations between BCPSEA and the BCTF are still at a deadlock, with the employers sticking to the government’s net-zero mandate and the teachers demanding pay increases to bring salaries closer to levels enjoyed by educators in Alberta and Ontario.

“At the end of the day what we’ll see is a settlement similar to what you see with the support staff,” Chell said. “It’s two-year net zero, that’s a very firm mandate. At some point we’ll get there but we just don’t know how or when.”

Teachers are on a work-to-rule job action and are not performing supervision during breaks. The report cards that went home in November were largely blank.

Recently, BCPSEA applied to the Labour Relations Board to cut teachers’ compensation by 15 per cent to reflect the reduced work load it says teachers are undertaking. The board rejected the application but BCPSEA has appealed the ruling, a move Wolney said was “poisoning the relationship between teachers and employers.”

“I cannot see how this is going to help negotiations become more favourable,” she said.

When asked, she said she had not heard of any plans to extend the job action.

Meanwhile, Revelstoke School District superintendent Anne Cooper, said administrative staff would continue to supervise before class and during recess.