UPDATED – Revelstoke students back in school Monday after deal ratified

Teachers vote in favour of deal with province, but Revelstoke teachers express unhappiness with local trustees.

Jennifer Wolney

Schools will be open shortly after B.C.’s teachers voted overwhelmingly in favour of an agreement reached by the BC Teachers Federation and the province.

“With the ratification of the new collective agreement, the strike and lockout are now over. Teachers and students will be back in school on Monday,” said Jim Iker, the president of the BCTF in a news conference Thursday night.

A note on the Revelstoke School District website says schools will be open for students on Monday, Sept. 22, but for a half-day only. Elementary schools will run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Revelstoke Secondary School will be in session from 9:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. School bus pickups will be one hour later than normal to accommodate the later start in the day.

Regular school hours begin on Tuesday.

86 per cent of teachers who voted opted in favour of the six year agreement reached early Tuesday morning between the BCTF and government negotiators. 31,741 out of about 41,000 teachers cast votes on Thursday.

The six-year, retroactive agreement is the longest ever negotiated. It includes a 7.25 per cent salary increase and improvements in extended health benefits.

The agreement also provides for an education fund that will average $80 million per year over the course of the agreement. The fund will be used to hire specialist teachers in order to address class size and composition issues.

Another $105 million will be dispersed by the union to settle hundreds of grievances resulting from the stripping of class size and composition from the teachers’ contract in 2002.

“I’m happy with this deal,” said Iker.

Iker said the turnout for the vote was higher than the union’s last two ratification votes.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender congratulated teachers on the settlement, which ends a bitter strike that shut schools for two weeks in June and another three weeks this fall.

“We can now focus on the path forward,” Fassbender said. “This long-term agreement is an historic opportunity to work together for students – to enhance their education experience and to support their achievements.”

Premier Christy Clark added her thanks on Twitter.

“This is a fair, affordable deal that will let us focus on putting students first,” Clark said.

***

The vote to end the strike came a day after a Revelstoke school board meeting where the president of the local teachers association voiced her displeasure with the lack of support shown from trustees towards striking teachers.

Revelstoke teachers won’t be going back to school happy, said Jennifer Wolney, the president of the Revelstoke Teachers Association.

Notably, they were dissapointed in the very neutral letter the trustees sent out to the province and union officials following the July 9 board meeting during which many teachers spoke up about their situation and how the strike, and their treatment by the government made them feel.

“Teachers tomorrow will vote, and as they cast their ballot to vote, they’re going to be thinking about the past. That past for some of them could be years ago, it could be last year, or it could be the board meeting of July 9,” said Wolney during Wednesday’s school board meeting.

She talked about teachers who struggle with large classes, or split classes, or classes with many special needs students. She said teachers work before school, during recess, at lunch and after school to help students.

They’ve lost their “joie de vivre,” she said, and their willingness to volunteer their time outside the classroom has been compromized. They’ve felt disrespected and undervalued.

“In my opinion you have teachers who are going to remember the past,” she said. “They don’t want to  go back to the time of uncertainty, of turbulence, of feeling disrespected. It’s my hope this board will help to stop all of those things that many teachers in this district told you is happening to them.”

Alan Chell, the chair of the Revelstoke Board of Education, responded by saying he views the agreement as a “real celebration”

“Both bargaining parties worked very hard to connect. I can definitely attest to that,” he said on Wednesday. “We put in some long hours, a lot of back and forth, and lot of effort to get some additional resources. The end result is a freely negotiated agreement with additional resources being provided. I see this as being a very positive sign for the future.”

He said the board strives to put as many resources into the classroom as possible.

Superintendent Mike Hooker said the ratio of students to teachers was better now than it was in the years prior to 2002.

He gave the example of the high school math department, where the largest class has 28 students and the smallest 14 students. “We don’t want the 28 but we need it to sustain the 14,” he said. “I think the teaching job has changed. It is challenging and it’s hard work. There will be teachers who are really struggling tomorrow and they will struggle to maintain that joie de vivre. I have tremendous pride – as you do – in the staff we have.”

Many of them struggled financially during the strike (I know of several took up other work to make ends meet), and they weren’t happy with the lack of support shown by school trustees.

Sarah Newton, who has been the most outspoken Revelstoke teacher during the strike, said that having 10 per cent of her pay deducted when the teachers were locked out – before going on strike – was hurtful and not forgotten. She said teachers won’t forget the lack of support from trustees.

“When I hear all the thanks for all the extra stuff, in reality teachers don’t think as those as extra, that’s just what we do,” she said. “When that pay was taken away as a bargaining tactic, we didn’t think that was cool. Nobody stood up at this board and said anything to BCPSEA or to us. Elmer was the only who said it upset him.”

Reluctantly, she would vote yes, because her family had been “brought to their knees” by the strike, which started in mid-June. Newton and her husband Rory Luxmoore are both teachers.

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