Open Letter to the British Columbia Government and BCTF

September 4, 2014

 

An Open Letter To:

Honorable Peter Fassbender, Education Minister

Honorable Christy Clark, Premier

Jim Iker, BCTF President

Kathy Corrigan, MLA Burnaby-Deer Lake

 

From:

Concerned Parent and Taxpayer

Disclaimer: The opinions and other references in this document are my own.  They do not represent the voice of my school district, school trustees, Parent Advisory Councils, teachers, or my child’s school in anyway.

Concern is an understatement at this point in the bargaining discussions. I passed concerned in June. Disturbed and frustrated is closer to where the consensus lies now. I have kept up with the various bargaining issues since this latest round of job action started. I have tried to keep an open mind to both side’s point-of-view, but at this point, I am disgusted with this dispute. My outright disbelief is leaning toward the government and their bargaining stance.

While the teachers have a right to strike, and I am not remotely suggesting they don’t, the children have an equal right under Article 28 of the UN Charter of Children’s Rights to a publically funded education. While I understand the UN Charter hasn’t been incorporated into domestic law, the charter was ratified by Canada on December 12, 1991, and therefore, this government should be making every effort to support it. I think we can all agree that children have a right to a free primary and secondary education. I also feel the government has a responsibility to the parents and taxpayers of this Province, to provide that free education, especially in lieu of the fact they are collecting our tax dollars for this very purpose.

While I think it is a nice gesture that you are providing “daycare” money to parents of children aged 5 to 13, what about the secondary students? They don’t need daycare, but they do need an education. What about the futures of those students you cavalierly cast aside under the guise of saving taxpayers money? What about the seniors trying to apply to international universities? I doubt Stanford or Harvard is going to make exceptions for BC students. You are preventing them from their right to pursue the post-secondary education they need, and have chosen, which allows them to become income earners and tax payers. For those students needing sport scholarships to help pay for this post-secondary education, you are preventing them from playing and earning this source of funding. Does this fact not weigh heavy on your conscience? Do you not have a legislated obligation to these students and their parents, the taxpayers of this Province?

Why is it that the private schools are receiving government funds for education while the public sector is not? It this justifiable? I am sure there are many rationalizations for allowing this to occur, but the simple fact of the matter is, why should my tax dollars fund private schools while my child stays at home? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t! The private schools should have to wait for funds until the public sector has access to those same funds. I want a refund for the taxes I am paying that are not going to my child’s education!

The BCTF has made concessions in what they are asking for. The teachers of this Province deserve a raise. I propose those in the government take a percentage pay cut for every year the teachers haven’t had a raise. Government hasn’t had an issue with increasing their pay by over 7% in the past several years, while allowing teachers to go with 0%. Why is it alright for taxpayers to pay a 7% pay raise with their tax dollars for government, but not for teachers? You seemed to find money in the budget for your own raise, I am sure you can be equally creative for teachers.

The biggest tragedy is the level of government funding for education. Let’s take a look at the numbers. While I applaud you for providing the $195 million for the Learning Improvement Fund (LIF), it is the proverbial drop in the bucket. This only addresses the need for learning improvement issues inside classrooms for composition related matters. It does nothing to compensate for the three year negligible increase on actual overall funding. I am curious how you can explain the legislation for increasing the amount taxpayers pay for education by the rate of inflation in the Province, when in fact the education system hasn’t seen any of these increases?

Outside of the LIF, overall funding in total has increased 1% from 2010 to 2014. We had been in a decreasing enrollment situation for some time, but that is now no longer the case based on the enrollment numbers for K to 4. In fact, from 2005 to 2014 we saw an 8.25% decrease, but when you look at the percentage from 2010 to 2014, it is only 1.6% decrease. The numbers are climbing, yet funding is shrinking. The math on this just doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps you can explain to me how you can increase education based taxes at the rate of inflation, yet not pass any of that on to the schools? Is this where the money is coming from for the government’s pay raise?

It is unconscionable that you are holding negotiating a contract for the appeal hearing on the constitutionality of your previous legislation (this appears to be what you are doing from my point-of-view). I have to side with the BCTF on this one, you are not negotiating in good faith.

Now let us look at the class size numbers:

BC School Act 1996         Bill 28 – 2001         Bill 33 – 2006                Bill 22 – 2012

K: 19; 22 max                      19; 22 max               19; 22 max                      22

1-3: 21; 24 max                    21; 24 max               21; 24 max                      24

4-7: 28                                  30                             28; max 30                      max 30

8-12: 30                                30                             30                                    30

The number of IEP students (composition component) has not changed from three per class. Bill 22 removed class sizes of Bill 33 and those from the school act.

So while the government has maintained that going back to 2001 levels is not feasible, I am just wondering why not? There hasn’t been that drastic of a change in the numbers since 1996. In fact the numbers for 8-12 haven’t changed at all! I understand with school closures that we may not have the infrastructure for some of these increases, but I think there is an easy compromise here. I don’t think it is that difficult to go to 20 max for K, 22 max for 1-3, and 29 max for 4-7. I think the BCTF compromise that can happen here is the need to approve every class size and composition over the limit. School districts do need some flexibility. With Bill 22 extra compensation to teachers in this situation was provided for. The teachers had to give permission for their class to be over the limit. Albeit, it is possible that administration could strong-arm a teacher into accepting, I have found this to not be the case in my experience (I don’t have access to every teacher). While it is good to have hard and fast rules, there does need to be some allowances for special circumstances. For instance, a secondary school wanting to add an honours class where they have 32 enrolled. There aren’t enough students in this case to feasibly break it into two classes, but having to strictly comply with 30 means they can’t offer the class at all, as how are they to decide which two students don’t get in? Isn’t this a case where the teacher should get to make the call and not the union?

I think where the government is having the biggest problem is the funding of class composition, as this group of students has increase substantially over the past twelve years. I am curious as to why EAs have to work a second job because they can’t get a full-time job in classrooms? Clearly we have the need for more EAs, teacher assistants, learning support staff, specialists, counsellors, etc. You recognized this need partially with the LIF, which is $75 million for 2014-2015, but with the overall general funding changing only 1% in 4 years, it is simply inadequate no matter how you want to manipulate the numbers.

Teachers provide a valuable service to society. They have a tough job, I know, I’ve been in the classrooms. I’ve been behind the scenes on PAC and SPC, and I know the amazing things schools are doing with shrinking funds. I have to wonder how many amazing student accomplishments we are missing out on due to the lack of funds. I have to wonder if the government thinks it is acceptable to limp along with average, or if we really want to strive to be an internationally recognized place of excellence.

The taxpayers of this Province should be very upset with the state of affairs we are in now. Are we really alright with the government “starving” the teachers into negotiating? Are we really alright with allowing the government to negate the hard won battle in court to contract language that doesn’t restrict teachers’ bargaining rights?  Are we alright with having to continue in this vicious cycle of strike action every two years? When will it be enough? When will the taxpayers take a stand against this injustice for the children of British Columbia?

Christy Clark, how can you allow this mentality and lopsided funding to continue? As far as this taxpayer is concerned, none of you have earned your over 7% pay raise!

 

 

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