Maple Ridge teachers tap into hardship fund

BCTF members on strike receiving cash and grocery vouchers

Teacher picketed outside Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing’s constituency office on Tuesday afternoon. They also rallied outside Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton’s office earlier that day.

Public school teachers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who haven’t received a full pay cheque since June are tapping into donations to make ends meet.

The Maple Ridge Teachers Association set up the hardship fund soon after teachers across the province went on a full-scale strike June 17.

Association president George Serra couldn’t say how many teachers have accessed the fund or how large it is. The association has received donations from retired teachers, as well as support from current teachers, who’ve been chipping in their strike pay.

“When you don’t have a pay cheque for weeks, things can get tough in a hurry,” said Serra, whose association represents 1,100 teachers.

Teachers who’ve accessed the fund are receiving support in cash or via grocery vouchers.

“I don’t think teachers are that different from anybody else. Unfortunately, a lot of us live pay cheque to pay cheque,” Serra added.

Associations across B.C. have set up similar funds, with the Surrey teachers even creating a food bank.

Teachers went on strike June 17, closing schools two weeks before the end of the school year.

Talks between the B.C. Teacher’s Federations and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association have continued under a media blackout since mediator Vince Ready met the two sides last week. Ready agreed to monitor the situation, and to resume exploratory talks or commence full mediation when he believes it will be productive.

The parties agreed that they will not engage in public discussion pending further discussions with Ready.

Serra said union representatives from across B.C. will meet in Kamloops Friday to discuss their plan of action for September.

The union has yet to decide whether teachers will continue with a full-scale strike once the new school year begins or switch to a limited withdrawal of services.

On Tuesday, teachers and their supporters staged rallies outside the offices of MLAs Marc Dalton and Doug Bing.

The B.C. government, meanwhile, is offering parents of students under the age of 13 years $40 a day if the strike is not over by the start of classes in Sept.

The program will cost the government about $12 million a day, about the same amount of money it costs to run the public school system.

Kellie Marquet, chairperson for SD42’s parent advisory council, sees the $40 as a bribe.

“Most parents are offended by it,” said Marquet.

“It’s the government’s way of spinning the same numbers differently. You can slice the pie up into a hundred pieces, but it’s still one pie. Where are parents going to get daycare? It just shows how out of tune the government is with our province.”

Marquet hears daily from parents wondering if school is going to start next week. If teachers were not on strike, they’d be in class right now, setting up for a new school year and working on lesson plans.

Marquet said parents are anxious because of the uncertainty.

She’s heard about some parents pulling kids out of the public school system to home school them. Others are turning to grandparents.

Even though the strike has continued through summer, Marquet believes parents want teachers to continue to their fight and not give up.

“If they give up now, it was all for nothing,” she said.

“It’s not about teachers wanting days off and raises. It’s about our kids getting a quality education. We just have to keep the pressure on.”

– with files from Black Press

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