Rarely does good news land at 3:50 a.m., but despite the hour, the president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union was awake and pleased to see an email early Tuesday informing her a tentative deal had been reached to reopen schools.
“We sleep with one eye open,” Leslea Woodward said with a laugh later Tuesday morning while awaiting details of the proposed contract for striking B.C. teachers, whose last deal expired in June 2013.
Although she wasn’t yet privy to everything in the agreement, she was confident negotiators did their best to strike a fair deal for all involved.
“It’s a relief,” Woodward said.
“Being out on the (picket) lines and talking to members, they’re happy and hoping that this will be good for kids, and it will be fair for kids and fair for teachers.”
Picket lines will stay up until the deal is ratified, likely on Thursday or Friday, Woodward added, and the best-case scenario would see schools reopen Monday or Tuesday, to allow time for teachers to prepare.
“There is a lot to startup that needs to be done,” she said.
Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said school opening dates will only be determined if, and when, the agreement is ratified and more information is received from the Ministry of Education.
“The goal will be to have students back in session as quickly as possible. Most buildings are ready to open. As soon as picket lines are down, efforts will be underway to ensure facilities are ready for students,” Hyer said via email.
“The biggest challenge for schools will be getting caught up with student registrations, timetable changes, transfer requests… as many of these staff that perform these duties were not working due to job action. So, folks will need to be patient as school staff work through these demands.”
Hyer recommended parents monitor local media and the school district’s website for updates.
The tentative deal is an “historic” six-year pact, Premier Christy Clark told a news conference Tuesday.
“This has never been done before in British Columbia,” she said of the proposed contract’s length. “That means five years of labour peace ahead of us.”
Clark would not disclose the amount of the “fair” wage increase contained in the deal, nor how much it would cost taxpayers, citing the need for teachers to see the proposal before it’s made public.
The premier did promise, however, that improvements in wages, benefits and classroom composition would not require government to raise taxes, cut services nor run a deficit.
The agreement was first announced by mediator Vince Ready at a Richmond hotel, where talks between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers had entered a fifth consecutive day.
Public schools closed two weeks early in June as a result of the teachers’ strike that ended the 2013-14 session, and are currently closed for the second straight week to start the 2014-15 year.