Was last Thursday the last day of classes for the school year in Revelstoke? That could be the case with the BC Teachers Federation launching full scale strike action this week.
BCTF president Jim Iker announced the labour action last Thursday morning. With Revelstoke teachers on strike Friday as part of rotating strike actions that were started two weeks ago, and Monday set for a series of study sessions, last Thursday, June 12, was the last day of school, unless a deal is struck between the teachers union and the province.
“Essentially for us, starting tomorrow, there is no school until an agreement is reached provincially,” said Mike Hooker, the superintendent of the Revelstoke School District, on Thursday.
An exchange of wage offers and other proposals between the BCTF and government negotiators on the weekend did not lead to an agreement, setting the stage for a full-scale walkout on Tuesday, June 17.
Negotiators for the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association met until midnight Sunday. The two sides contradicted each other Monday morning on the substance of the wage offers, and each said the next move is up to the other if a deal is to be reached.
Iker said a complete strike is “imminent,” after union members endorsed the move in a province-wide strike vote last week.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Monday he is waiting for a response from the union to the latest offer from BCPSEA, which represents the province’s 60 school districts.
Iker said the union’s latest wage offer increased its proposed contract term from four to five years, with an 8% raise over that time and a $5,000 signing bonus. BCPSEA had offered a $1,200 signing bonus for an agreement by the end of the school year, and the union took into account that teachers are losing 10% of their pay for withholding some duties, Iker said.
Fassbender did not specify the employer’s latest wage proposal, which Iker described as a slight reduction in BCPSEA’s earlier offer. Fassbender disagreed.
“[BCPSEA] tabled a comprehensive settlement that includes an improved wage offer and commits to realistic and flexible solutions to address class composition,” Fassbender said.
The strike action will affect final exams and some end-of-year activities. Provincial exams for grade 10, 11 and 12 classes will still take place, but they will be invigilated by non-teaching staff.
How it will affect final grades has yet to be determined, said Hooker. “There are many courses that do not have final exams,” he said. “For all others it is most likely that term one and two marks will be combined to blend a final mark. That will be a decision to be made should this current situation continue through to the end of June.”
As well, this year’s graduation ceremony will be held at the community centre on Thursday, June 26, at 12:30 p.m.
“We’ve had a indication early on from our teachers there would no effort to try to disrupt that,” said Hooker. “They recognize the importance of that event for students.”
Students were feeling caught up in the middle of the battle. John Yakielashek and Annick Langlois, both grade 12 students said the strike action would mean they would be missing several units of important courses they need for university.
“I think both sides have messed up. Both sides are in the wrong. I don’t think the students should be in the middle,” said Yakielashek.
Said Langlois: “It’s government, teachers and students, and it’s our education that’s being messed up.”
Steve Busch, the father of grade seven and 10 students, said on Thursday that he hoped the two sides could reach an agreement over the weekend. He didn’t pick sides in the debate.
“I think both sides are in a tough place and both sides are using the tools they have to try and get to an agreement,” he said. “I just think they need to get there.”
Carmen Bell, the mother of a grade 11 student, said that teachers have “one of the highly responsible jobs in our society” and should be recognized for that.
“In the sense of balancing the books and the future of our province, we really need to pick our priorities,” she said.
In Revelstoke, Hooker said he was “proud of how hard the staff have been working to ensure special events for students, particularly associated with year-end, have taken place.”
“This has been a huge distraction and has been disruptive to the system, obviously, but I am proud of the work staff have done to try to mitigate as much as they can,” he said.
He also responded to several open letters from parents who expressed support for the striking teachers, saying he appreciated their passion and the level of support they show for local teachers and the local school system.
“I have nothing but respect for that and its the feeling of our board as well,” he said.
He said Revelstoke is being affected by a provincial fight for smaller class sizes and improved composition that are not an issue here.
“I think a lot of what we’re seeing provincially is that there have been boards that have not been able to sustain what we have in Revelstoke,” he said. “That’s what you see as a lot of the fight being about in the provincial arena — class sizes of 32 or students who need extra supports and are not getting them. That has not been our situation and nor will it be in the foreseeable future for us.”