Teachers’ strike could harm Penticton program’s reputation

New program that’s becoming an important source of revenue for the school district headquartered in Penticton may be affected by strike.

Thorge Sass

Thorge Sass

Parents around the globe may be affected by a prolonged B.C. teachers’ strike, as could a new program that’s becoming an important source of revenue for the school district headquartered in Penticton.

Fifty-five international students from eight countries are signed up to spend at least part of the 2014-15 session at facilities within the Okanagan Skaha School District.

That’s nearly double the 24 visitors who attended two years ago, and whose tuition added up to a $140,000 profit for the school district, which has a mandate from trustees to identify new sources of revenue to offset decreases in government funding tied to enrolment declines.

International students pay $12,000 in tuition for a full year, although some stay for as little as a few weeks.

Superintendent Wendy Hyer said a lengthy labour dispute could harm B.C.’s reputation abroad and make it harder for her district and others to recruit students in the future.

“There’s a lot of competition for international students, and parents want to send their kids where they know they’re going to get a good education and have a good experience,” she said.

All of the international students registered for 2014-15 are still scheduled to attend, Hyer added, since it’s standard practice not to offer tuition refunds in the event of labour woes, so the visitors are coming anyway and hoping the teachers’ dispute is settled soon.

Hyer said international students typically spend their first week here doing orientation and cultural activities, such as community tours and team-building exercises, led by a non-unionized program co-ordinator, who may have to come up with new ideas if the strike drags on longer than that.

And despite the current uncertainty, the district is still seeking new homestays for its international students. Hyer noted a lack of suitable accommodations limited the program last year to 36 kids.

“We actually had to turn away a handful of applicants,” she said. “It’s too bad, but we really want to work on running a good program.”

Host families are paid $725 per student per month in exchange for providing room and board. More information is available on the school district website. Representatives of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association met last Friday to discuss the possible resumption of collective bargaining, and are expected to get together again this week.

Teachers are still pushing for a mediator to help settle the contract dispute, although the B.C. government has said there’s no point in bringing in a neutral third-party until the BCTF scales back its demands.

As it stands, teachers will resume their strike when the 2014-15 school year begins Sept. 2.