Teachers not playing politics with kids

With the start of the school year, and teachers engaging in a “teach only” phase of job action, I read with dismay, teacher-bashing comments in some online and large print sources in our province. Some accuse teachers of playing politics with kids.

With the start of the school year, and teachers engaging in a “teach only” phase of job action, I read with dismay, teacher-bashing comments in some online and large print sources in our province. Some accuse teachers of playing politics with kids.

I’d like to examine just who is playing politics with our kids, and the public education system. I, like many teachers, am a parent with children in the system.

B.C. teachers have been working under an illegally stripped contract for the past decade. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the government illegally stripped our contract in January 2002 and deprived teachers of both the benefits of the contract and of their charter rights as Canadians. The main clauses that were stripped were the limits on class size and composition.

When teachers bargained class size we felt it was so important to the learning conditions in classrooms that we agreed to a 0-0-2 per cent wage deal in exchange. When our contract was ripped up the government didn’t renegotiate, they just tore out sections that would save money at the expense of kids and teachers.

Interestingly, it was Christy Clark, education minister at that time, who tore up our legally negotiated contract. Recently our premier stated that although David Hahn’s (BC Ferries CEO) wages and pension are way too rich, there is nothing that can be done about it because it is a contract. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court found the contract stripping illegal and gave the two sides some time to rectify it, but the government maintains they can’t put the money and the class size numbers back.

Government has saved money by cutting the number of teachers, and by not increasing teacher wages. Furthermore, the percentage of our GDP spent on funding for public education has decreased significantly in the last decade. The result is that the needs of all students are not being met. The BCTF has spent teachers’ money on legal costs trying to get the class size limits back — for kids and teachers. The government has spent millions of public money on stall tactics and legal manoeuvring.

Negotiations have been going on since March and I still have not heard the government, or their representatives, say anything but “zero”, and, “there is no more money for education”. But the reports are clear, it would require at least $300 million to get ratios of teachers-students, librarians-students and special education teachers-students back to 2002 levels.

As far as being able to afford education spending, please keep in mind the B.C. government can always find lots of money for projects they want to fund. Take the retractable roof on B.C. Place (original budget $300 million — real cost $600 million) and it won’t work in the rain.

Now that teachers have decided to get a message to their employer and government by going to a “teach only” campaign, the comments from some, again, claim teachers are using kids.

Every time someone prints or posts a comment bashing teachers, like one I read on an education blog recently, which stated, “they should fire all of the teachers and hire back the good ones”, I shudder.

Our job action plan does not hurt kids. We will focus on teaching, we will discuss progress with parents, we will work to provide rich, engaging and wonderful educational experiences to every child that comes in the door with the limited resources available to us.

We will not be “pushing paper” that we don’t need. We have withdrawn recess supervision. School districts are capable of covering this duty. They have in other situations and the LRB said that in a recent ruling. Okanagan Skaha School District staff will be carrying out recess supervision.

By cancelling recess instead of supervising it with administration, as Kelowna, Vernon, and others districts are doing, and claiming it is because of the teachers’ job action, the leadership in these districts is illustrating their priorities.

Teachers are not playing politics with kids.

Kevin Epp, president

Okanagan-Skaha Teachers’ Union