The Maple Ridge Teachers Association says education is still ‘underfunded’.

The Maple Ridge Teachers Association says education is still ‘underfunded’.

No ‘showdown’ with teachers: minister

But education is still ‘underfunded’ says Maple Ridge Teachers Association

The B.C. government is pressing ahead with its goal of a 10-year agreement with B.C. teachers, appointing a “public administrator” to replace school trustees on the board of their provincial bargaining agency.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the change is temporary, and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association will continue to play an important role in talks with teachers and support staff. BCPSEA will be under the direction of Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Hospital Employers’ Association, when talks with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation resume in September.

Fassbender’s announcement surprised school trustees around the province. He said he spoke to or left messages for trustees on the BCPSEA executive before making the announcement Wednesday in Vancouver.

The move is to meet a demand of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to bargain directly with the B.C. government, Fassbender said. The government also intends to eliminate essential services rules that keep schools open with minimum staff during strikes.

Fassbender denied the suggestion he is setting up a “showdown” with teachers that would shut down schools and turn the public against unions. The structural change is needed to achieve the stability for students and parents promised by Premier Christy Clark, he said.

“It’s not about pitting them against us,” Fassbender said. “It’s about finding a new road map where we can achieve that goal.”

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teacher’s Association, said the change doesn’t address the fact that the education system has been under funded since the Liberals came into power.

“I’ve always felt bad for the BCPSEA,” said Serra. “They’ve been asked to negotiate a contract but haven’t been given the funding to do it. Their hands have always been tied and, yet, they always get blamed for not getting a deal done.”

Regardless of a change, he said nothing that the government has put forward to date has been a result of direct talks with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation.

“That’s been their downfall. There can’t be labour peace when they’re still dictating the terms.”

The MRTF president said he was skeptical about the government’s latest offer of the right to strike. The B.C. government stripped teacher’s of that right shortly after the Liberals came to power in 2001.

Serra said examination of the B.C. government’s white paper on teacher’s bargaining that was released in January of 2013 still imposes restrictions to when the teacher’s would be allowed to take a strike vote and actually set up picket lines.

“What they are proposing doesn’t sound like full bargaining rights. You would have to actually read the whole white paper to fully understand the limits, but you won’t see any of that in a government press release.”

He said the government’s insistence on an unprecedented 10-year contract will also continue to be a major stumbling block for getting a new deal done. Serra said if the government is serious about labour peace then it has to restore teachers full right to strike, as well as address class sizes, and at the very least, bring teacher’s salaries up to the national average.

“There can be a lot of changes in 10 years. We’re not sure how they will determine salaries and funding over the course of the next decade,” he said.

A two-year contract extension and wage freeze imposed by the government on teachers expired at the end of June.

The BCTF is returning to court this fall to seek restoration of bargaining for class size and special needs support.

School support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees are to resume negotiations for a new contract this month, after walking away last spring because their negotiators didn’t believe BCPSEA had an adequate mandate to get a settlement.

CUPE employees have not had a raise in four years.

– with files from Tim Fitzgerald