A rotating strike by BC teachers will see 23 Kootenay Lake district schools closed on Wednesday, May 28, not May 29 as previously planned. The district issued a release to the media on Wednesday morning, announcing the date change.
The rotating strikes will begin on Monday. Over four days, each school district in the province will close for one day as part of the job action by the BCTF. As a result School District 8 superintendent Jeff Jones said a notice will be sent out to students this week asking parents to make alternative arrangements for their children.
Since April 23, all BC teachers have taken limited strike action by withdrawing their administrative and volunteer duties to put pressure on government and the BC Public School Employers Association during contract negotiations. Cutting administrative duties and volunteer services has thrust administration staff into supervisory duties before and after school and during recess and lunch.
Jones said teachers should be fully commended as their commitment to their students’ learning was apparent during his recent visits to schools in the district.
“I really do hope this matter can be resolved. We value our relationships with the community and our teachers. It’s an impossible set of circumstances. The negotiations are happening provincially, not locally, and the teachers are conflicted. They need to reach a fair settlement.”
Jones said the direct impact to students has not been great at this point but it puts pressure on the whole system. Administration is doing so much supervision and have heavy workloads already, so it adds undue stress, he said.
“Last week, teachers were hopeful when they saw the government and BCPSEA put out an olive branch by backing off the unrealistic 10-year term,” said BC Teachers’ Federation President Jim Iker. “But the next day, hope that this government would start negotiating in good faith faded when the employer announced a series of threats around wage rollbacks, lockouts, and attempts to divide teachers, parents, and students.
“Unfortunately, the employer has steadfastly refused to table any improvements to class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers. Teachers have twice won the right to negotiate our working conditions, which are also students’ learning conditions, in BC Supreme Court. We expect government to bring new funding to the table to make those improvements happen.”
The rotating closures are part of a two-stage strike plan voted on by teachers in March. During that vote, teachers gave their bargaining team an overwhelming mandate to begin low-level job action and then move to rotating strikes if meaningful progress was not made in negotiations. In all, 29,301 teachers cast ballots — 89 per cent voted in favour of the two-stage job action plan.
“Teachers do not take job action of any kind lightly,” said Iker. “As teachers, we care deeply about our students and their education, but with another round of brutal cuts looming, we need to act now. With BC funding education $1,000 per student less than the national average, British Columbians must take a strong stand and convince Christy Clark’s government to reinvest in our students. It is time for government to make education a funding priority.
The strike action is a result of on going contact renegotiation between the BCTF and the government. The government has been pushing for a 10 year contract agreement from the start, which the BCTF rejected. The BCTF teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.
All schools will be back in session by May 30. Any extension of the rotating job action will depend on events at the bargaining table.