Teacher salaries and support for special needs students are major issues for Bulkley Valley teachers in the ongoing dispute between public school teachers and the B.C. government. That is according to Karin Bachman, president of the Bulkley Valley Teachers Union (BVTU).
As of Sept. 6, public school teachers across B.C. are taking job action to pressure the province into meeting their demands.
In phase one, Bachman said, teachers will stick to a work-to-rule campaign, refusing to do administrative tasks like meeting with principals, supervising recess and writing report cards.
The teacher’s union and the employer’s association are strongly divided on three central issues: salaries, class size, and class composition.
“We want a reasonable salary increase and some benefits,” Bachman said, adding that B.C. teachers are paid less than their counterparts in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Class size is not a problem in the Bulkley Valley, Bachman added, but class composition is.
“Our concern is having enough support for kids who have learning disabilities,” she said. “That’s been cut considerably over the last 10 years.”
Every school in the Bulkley Valley has at least one part-time learner support teacher to provide extra help in classrooms that have kids with special needs, she said. But the school district used to employ more support teachers, and for longer hours.
A key point in the negotiations is how to interpret a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision on the government’s 2002 decision to remove class size and composition from teacher bargaining. Composition issues include the number of special needs students in a class.
Bachman, who has taught for 21 years at Lake Kathlyn Elementary School, said she has seen how much harder it has been to handle a class since that watershed school year.
Education Minister George Abbot has repeatedly said that any settlement with teachers has to fit the government’s “net zero” mandate. Abbot said last Wednesday that the BCTF is demanding “restoration of the world as it existed in 2001, and once that’s done, then they’ll start talking.”
Asked whether the extra funding the BCTF is demanding is too high, Bachman said the numbers released so far are only a starting point. The teachers union is willing to make compromises, she said.
The provincial government has quickly legislated teachers back to work in previous disputes, said Bachman, something she is hoping their low-impact work-to-rule campaign can avoid this time.
Bachman stressed that teachers in the Bulkley Valley have no trouble with their local administrators.