Teachers and ministry at odds over report cards

Province going to Labour Relations Board over aspects of teachers job action

After two months of stalled contract negotiations and a work-to-rule campaign by teachers, the bargaining agent for the province is trying to turn up the heat on the BCTF.

Last week, the B.C. Public School Employer’s Association, which handles negotiations for the provincial aspects of the teachers’ contract, applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to force teachers to issue report cards or face a pay cut, arguing that teachers should not expect 100 per cent of their pay if they are not doing 100 per cent of the work.

Other than taking attendance, teachers are refusing to perform routine administrative work or activities like playground supervision, including writing report cards. But now, according to the teachers’ union, the BCPSEA’s wants to renege on a deal all parties agreed to in July, before the job action began.

“It was actually the employer’s idea and decision that report cards will not be done,” said Leslea Pryde, vice-president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers Union.

It was part, she said, of an LRB ruling setting out what teachers would not be doing, and was agreed to by the employer.

Education Minister George Abbott declined to comment last week on reports of the BCPSEA application to the LRB. But he agreed with the concept that reporting on student progress should be an essential service.

“Report cards and reporting generally are hugely important to us,” Abbott said last week. “It is not acceptable to me, nor to the Ministry of Education, to have children and parents in British Columbia not understanding how they are progressing.”

The ministry has directed principals and vice-principals to send out report cards, but Abbott acknowledged that without teacher input, they may contain little more than an attendance report.

“Teachers are working very hard and are working to keep parents informed of their child’s progress,” said Pryde, adding that not doing paperwork does not mean teachers are not performing their essential duties.

“We are teaching our kids and enjoy teaching our kids, that is what we are there for. Now they are going to tell us they are going to take back pay, that will hurt. It will really hurt,” she said. “We have been in the classroom, we have been following labour relations ruling … hopefully, the employer will realize this will be a big mistake. After agreeing to the job action and what will be taking place in this job action, they are reneging on it.”

The last contract with B.C.’s 41,000 public school teachers expired in June. While local negotiations have been substantially completed, several points are still in contention at the provincial bargaining table. In addition to wage and benefit increases, the BCTF wants restoration of class size and special needs support rules, after a court ruling gave the government a year to consult with teachers on appropriate levels.

Abbott also presented legislation last week to dissolve the B.C. College of Teachers, reducing the BCTF’s power to protect and reinstate teachers facing discipline for misconduct.

Last year former deputy minister Don Avison reported on the function of college discipline and found that the BCTF-dominated discipline committee “appeared to minimize the severity” of offences. BCTF president Susan Lambert has disputed his findings.

Avison highlighted two cases where teachers had their certification restored, one after being convicted of sexual assaults on students and another after serving six years in prison for trafficking cocaine.

The legislation creates a new B.C. Teachers’ Council with a commissioner to oversee complaints. Discipline panels would no longer have a majority of BCTF appointees.