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Teacher strike savings will assist parents

Helen Homer, holding a “Families First” sign, pickets outside Garibaldi secondary Wednesday with other Maple Ridge teachers Jim Watson, Jodi Dahle, Areal Cracknell, Michele Smith. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Helen Homer, holding a “Families First” sign, pickets outside Garibaldi secondary Wednesday with other Maple Ridge teachers Jim Watson, Jodi Dahle, Areal Cracknell, Michele Smith.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

If the teachers’ strike continues into September, the provincial government has promised parents financial help with their daycare costs.

Finance Minister Mike De Jong announced Thursday that parents of children under 13 will be eligible for $40 per day, per child, to help with daycare costs or tutors.

The government will fund this program with money saved on wages during the strike, which has been calculated at approximately $12 million per day.

Parents can utilize that money to acquire tutoring for their children or explore other educational opportunities, De Jong said.

“For others, it’ll be basic daycare.”

De Jong added that older children don’t require as much supervision, and have online options to maintain their studies if the labour dispute takes more instructional time away.

The amount was chosen to compensate families of 300,000 children up to age 12 in public school at no net cost to the provincial budget.

He explained that parents will apply online, and be reimbursed in October.

De Jong said there are five weeks remaining in the summer break for most public schools to reach a settlement with the BCTF, and he hopes the program won’t be needed.

There is no end to the labour dispute in sight. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the government are not talking, and no talks are scheduled.

NDP education critic Rob Fleming called the announcement a “trial balloon” that suggests the dispute may be months away from resolution.

“I think parents are going to look at this and say, ‘you know what, school is not daycare’,” Fleming said.

George Serra, the president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, characterized Thursday’s announcement as gamesmanship.

“They’re just saying, ‘We don’t care how long this goes,’” said Serra. “And they’re also scoring political points with some parents.”

He said the government does not want to bargain, will not agree to mediation, and Education Minister Peter Fassbender has said Victoria will not legislate teachers back to work.

Fassbender and school district negotiators say the BCTF’s contract demands are far out of step with other unions, particularly on increased classroom preparation time and other benefit improvements. The long-running dispute over class size and special needs support is headed back to court this fall.

Serra and other district representatives of the BCTF will be meeting with the union’s leadership on Aug. 22 in Kamloops. He believes the issue of whether to continue the strike in September should be the top agenda item, and has suggested it may not be the best strategy in these negotiations.

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