The province has proposed a two-week truce with striking teachers to allow B.C. schools to reopen as scheduled next week while a mediated settlement is pursued.
The idea of a cooling-off period allowing classes to start while mediated talks proceed was put to B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker by Education Minister Peter Fassbender and government negotiator Peter Cameron.
There was no deal between the two sides, but both sides said progress was made in the 90-minute meeting Wednesday afternoon, and mediator Vince Ready was to begin exploratory talks Thursday.
The BCTF has not yet responded to the proposal, but Iker indicated he needed union membership approval to halt picketing and urged full mediation to begin immediately.
The process to get membership approval could take two to three days.
The B.C. Public School Employers Association would also suspend lockout activity if the truce goes ahead.
In addition to shutting down pickets, Fassbender’s proposal also calls on the union to set aside potential grievances arising from the last court ruling on class size and composition, now under appeal by the province.
George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teacher’s Association, said local teachers were not impressed by Fassbender’s proposal.
“We had eight weeks over the summer to use,” said Serra. “We find it a little ironic that all of a sudden he’s looking for a two week cooling off period.”
Serra characterized Wednesday’s surprise meeting, called by Fassbender, as “little more than a media stunt.” He noted Fassbender had a press release prepared even before discussions began.
“We are hoping that with Ready involved there is something a bit more hopefully,” said Serra. “Nothing on [Wednesday] was about moving it forward.”
B.C. School Trustees Association president Teresa Rezansoff called on both sides to move from their positions to ensure schools open Tuesday.
She said the BCTF compensation demand must come closer to what other public sector unions have accepted and the government should plow strike savings into schools rather than redirecting it to parents.
“The money for the proposed $40-a-day subsidy for parents would be better spent on students in schools,” Rezansoff said in an open letter.
Parents, meanwhile, are watching the developments with mixed feelings.
Wendy Rairdan would prefer the teachers to stay on strike until a deal is reached, even if that takes a month.
“I don’t want us to get back to school for two weeks only to have to go back … and re-establish daycare all over again,” said Rairdan, whose children attend the environmental school in Maple Ridge.
“We are all tired as parents. But for me, it’s hard not to support the teachers.”
Ambrosia Gillis, who has a daughter entering Grade 10 at Garibaldi secondary, wants school to start.
“I don’t appreciate having my kids put in the middle of what appears to be, primarily, a wage dispute,” said Gillis.
“My daughter can’t afford to miss valuable curriculum time.”
– with files from Jeff Nagel