Uncertain summer ahead for teachers walking away from picket lines

Teacher Ian Butters walks a picket line Wednesday outside Penticton Secondary School. He and other educators face an uncertain summer as the strike drags on. - Joe Fries/Western News
Teacher Ian Butters walks a picket line Wednesday outside Penticton Secondary School. He and other educators face an uncertain summer as the strike drags on.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

Had this been a normal school year, teacher Ian Butters would have spent Wednesday in meetings, finalizing student marks and preparing for the fall session.

Instead, he spent the afternoon walking the picket line in front of Penticton Secondary School, where he worked until two weeks ago as an English 12 teacher.

With the school year set to officially draw to a close Friday, teachers are filled with trepidation about what comes next.

“It sucks. I really don’t like it,” said Butters, who’s been an educator for 23 years.

Teachers lost 10 per cent of their salary when job action commenced in April, then all of it when strikes began in May.

Butters’ wife, Pam, is still on the job as an administrator for the school district, but he said his loss of income will still be felt at home.

“We’re not going to be going on any trips. We’ll be sitting at home and some of the jobs we were planning to do around the house will be put back,” he said.

Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, said that’s the reality faced by all teachers as they settle in for a dispute that could drag on through summer.

“If there’s no agreement by June 30, then we’re still on strike, so it looks like we’ll be picking up the picket lines in September if there’s no agreement being made, but we are pushing for a mediator,” she said.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which bargains on behalf of the government, were scheduled to resume negotiations Thursday.

Woodward hopes public support remains with teachers, who have been without a contract since June 2013.

“I think it’s important for the public to know this is about public education. It’s about a big picture here. It’s not just about teachers’ wages and what we want,” she said. But, “Yes, there’s money involved because in order to repair a damaged system that’s been raped, you need to put money back into it.”

Meanwhile, the board of the Okanagan Skaha School District at a special meeting Thursday agreed to send a letter to the BCTF and BCPSEA imploring both sides to make a deal.

“The worst-case scenario is we start the new school year … still under this present situation, and we are just urging them to get on with it and get a settlement,” said chairman Bruce Johnson.

School trustees, he added, have “received some emails from citizens and teachers just urging the board to step up and be heard publicly,” and feel the time is right to join with colleagues elsewhere to help add a sense of urgency to negotiations.

“We’re one of 60 districts, and we just want to make sure we do our part,” Johnson said.

The board also heard that summer school programs have been cancelled as a result of the strike, which will affect an estimated 125 students in Okanagan Skaha.

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