More teachers are expected to be hired in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, after the union’s courtroom victory. But how many, and how soon, is a question mark.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the BC Teachers’ Federation, who argued that the government’s 2002 stripping of the teacher’s contract was unconstitutional. The government took away teachers’ rights to bargain class size and composition, sparking a 14-year legal battle that last week.
“It’s a huge relief, and it’s been a long time coming,” said George Serra of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.
“For teachers, who have been at the end of a sharp stick, it’s good to see the bully get what’s coming.”
He said the government and union agreed in the last round of bargaining that if the court ruled against the government, then bargaining would be re-opened on the effected provisions of the collective agreement.
The union says the government has the funds to address class size, and teachers are calling for hirings as soon as January.
“We know the B.C. government has the funds available to make this situation right. “There is a $1.9-billion surplus and the government has continuously acknowledged our potential court victory as a cost against the province’s contingency fund,” said BCTF president Glen Hansman in a statement.
“The money is there and the government should take action now to improve teaching and learning conditions across B.C.
“Given everything that this government has done and forced teachers to endure, it is the only responsible and ethical action for them to take.”
The union has estimated the cost will be $250-$300 million per year to bring staff levels to the standards of 2002.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the province wants to move as quickly as possible.
Serra said the result should be more teacher librarian time, more support teachers, more teachers for English language learners, and smaller classes in this district. The issue is how many.
School board chairman Mike Murray said School District No. 42 will benefit from added resources, to address longstanding class-size issues.
“Once they conclude those negotiations, we’ll have a better idea of what the cost is,” said Murray. “Of course, our board’s position has always been that additional dollars going into public education would certainly be welcome.”
The board has been forced to make significant budget cuts for severas school years: $5.7 million in 2013/14, $5 million in 2014/15, $1.7 million for 2015/16. The result has been average class sizes on the increase.
“To the degree this helps address the issues we’ve raised in the past, we’re thankful the court decision has been taken, and the two parties can get on with the negotiations and come to a conclusion.”
Premier Christy Clark said the province was prepared for the loss in court, and she will sit down with the BCTF.
“We all want to put more special needs teachers in classrooms, we all want to make sure that classes are the right size for kids, so I’m excited about that possibility we’ve got ahead of us,” she said.
Serra said he expected a win, but not in such a short time frame.
“I knew we had a very strong case, having lived through what this government has done.”