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NDP, BCTF – please just get the deal done

Jody Vance: the last thing anyone – parents, kids, and especially teachers – wants is another strike, or a deal that doesn’t give students what they need.
Hopefully we have a deal before the leaves turn (Leon Wang/

Parents are worried, rightfully so, that we are sliding down another slippery slope toward a September teacher’s strike.

The back and forth on the holdup in negotiations is frustrating, for everyone, after almost two decades of fight both in and out of the courts. The provincial government and the teachers’ union need to find the right Middle, for kids.

Most of us assumed, wrongly, that the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of teachers bargaining class size and composition would have made the deal making process much more streamlined. It’s not.

Round and round we go.

The current NDP Government’s negotiations with the BCTF seems eerily familiar, and not in a good way, to acrimonious standoffs with the previous government – and the previous NDP government, too. The overarching reality here is that citizens simply want kids in the best possible learning environment. We pay for it…make it work.

Having survived the 2014 “work stoppage” with a kindergartener I can tell you firsthand that the politics of union negotiations and subsequent disruption in classes significantly negatively impacts kids.

They deserve better than to be pawns in political gameplay.

The 2014 BC strike seemed endless for kids and parents alike. And when the deal was finally done, the ripple effect continued. Teachers returned to work, but many had decided to leave BC for better salaries and work environments. That exodus is still being felt, as we still suffer from an epic teacher shortage.

Our teachers are underpaid compared to the national average. In BC teachers make between $49,376 and $78,757; in Alberta they make between $62,757 and $93,372. Why not offer our educators a solid salary that keeps up with inflation? That request seems reasonable given the importance of their work.

In 2014, many teachers gave up salary increases in order to get back to work and have “class size and composition” back in the negotiation mix. So it should come as no surprise that the goal in this next contract would be getting into line with the national average, and have increases meet, at the very least, inflation.

Many citizens without skin in the game are a bit desensitized as to what “class size and composition” actually means. So let’s talk this through.

Think about the size of your elementary or high school classes, were there 20 or 25 kids in your class, maybe?  How about high-needs kids, or those or couldn’t speak a word of English? Our classrooms have evolved significantly over the last 20 years. Under the current language in the NDP’s latest offer, we could see classes bloat to 30+ students. Can you imagine managing 30 grade five kids, never mind educating them?

Classrooms in 2019 are far more inclusive – which is a good thing – and need to be funded to support the new reality.

Class size and composition are major cost items, so when you hear that language you must think $$. For its part, government naturally wants to try to reduce costs. Then-current proposals from the BCPSEA would increase class sizes and remove composition language that teachers fought for in their contract all the way to the Supreme Court.

It’s worth pointing out that not all districts have class size and/or composition language, but the issue remains a sore point with teachers. Talk to teachers about the classroom today as opposed to years gone by and they will tell you, in no uncertain terms, they are overwhelmed.

Growing up in a family stocked with public school teachers, I can tell you that teachers work hard, very hard – often work far beyond regular school hours. But there’s a perception problem; too often, with “extra long weekends,” “professional development days” and “summers off,” those on the outside sometimes assume that teaching is a cakewalk with a lot of days off.

Nothing could be further from the truth. My dad was a teacher in Vancouver, and he worked nonstop.

It’s time to get politics out of the classroom. We need legitimate support to kids in BC, we need to believe those on the ground in public schools when they say that the current system isn’t helping students. Right now it feels like children are a line-item on a balance sheet. That’s flawed. Finding Middle has never been more important, there is no time to waste.

Perhaps Middle can be found by building the best classrooms for kids to thrive in, with the right number of teachers and teaching assistants in the mix, and THEN note what budgets should be?

Right now, it feels like a game of cat and mouse meets chase your tail. Taxpaying parents deserve better, kids deserve better. There are no winners and losers in this process, to find the Middle here it needs to be about the kids.

They need us to figure this out.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.