TEACHER TALKS UPDATE: Teachers on picket line, CUPE in support
Teachers in School District 43 gave up a day's pay and classroom instruction for honks, coffee and donuts as they took to the streets today, Wednesday, in a one-day walkout.
Wearing placards and waving to passing cars, they manned picket lines to demand what they say is a fair deal on class size and composition and wages at the bargaining table. But it wasn't only the district's 1,200 teachers who were off the job today, some 2,000 CUPE 561 support workers stayed away from schools in support of teachers, losing a day's pay themselves for the action of solidarity.
For Moody middle Grade 6-7 teacher Barb Buczewski, the teacher's walkout was forced on them by the province's refusal to put teacher working conditions back on the bargaining table despite two outings in court that ruled that legislation removing class size and composition language from the contract violated teachers' constitutional rights.
"It's just our hand are tied. Nobody wants to be out here," Buczewski said.
Below: Parent Lisa Cable at a parent rally in Port Moody May 2.
PARENTS IN VICTORIA
Also today, a group of parents was expected to head to Victoria to present a case for more education funding for School District 43. Lisa Cable, with Parents for B.C. planned to meet with local MLAs and attend question period in the B.C. legislature. She's bringing with her a 200-page book of stories from parents concerned about their child's education.
Meanwhile, today's strike by teachers is taking place under a cloud of uncertainty, with both the provincial employers' association and the BC Teachers' Federation mired in a dispute that the local teachers' union is predicting could result in future walkouts.
In addition to the walkout at all School District 43 public schools, a partial lockout has been ordered against teachers, along with a 10% cut in pay, which the Coquitlam Teachers' Association president says has thrown numerous extracurricular activities into doubt.
"It's very hard to get clarity," the CTA's Charley King said.
He added: "What it's going to take is for the government to change its mind and start negotiating fairly with teachers." The number one concern is class size and composition issues, although public school teachers are also asking for what he called "fair" wages.
King said the BCTF will decide at the end of the week if job action should continue.
Meanwhile, today's walkout presented some problems for parents, who were asked to keep their kids home from school, and CUPE support workers, who were expected to respect teachers' picket lines and stay out of schools.
As well, a scheduled District Parent Advisory Council meeting slated for 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) was moved to Coquitlam Public Library's Poirier branch to avoid picket lines, although school-based daycares were expected to remain open.
SD43 superintendent Tom Grant said he expected the walkout to create anxiety among teachers, parents, students, administrators and support workers, and he said he hoped a settlement could be reached soon to avoid problems that come when uncertainty lasts too long.
Below: Coquitlam students rallied in support of teachers Monday.
There are no plans to impose a contract extension on the union to end negotiations, Education Minster Peter Fassbender said this week, although he said he hoped for more some movement from the teachers' union. "We want the BCTF to come to the table with a wage response that is reasonable and within the zone of other public sector unions. We expect them to come with something that is affordable for taxpayers."
But with all SD43 public schools back in session Thursday, the most pressing issue for teachers and SD43 administrators is how work around the BC Public School Employers-imposed partial lockout.
School board officials say SD43 has no choice but to follow the BCPSEA's ruling, which states that teachers can still do volunteer and extracurricular activities and are allowed in the school at any time, although they are restricted to doing only paid teacher duties during class time and 45 minutes before and after school starts.
The statement, available at www.sd43.bc.ca, angers the CTA's King because he says it puts all the heat on teachers without acknowledging that there are complications. Activities such as performances where students are marked could be considered paid work and teachers could be in violation of the lockout order if they take part. As a result of the confusion on what can and can't be done in schools, teachers, such as those at Dr. Charles Best secondary, have voted to ban extracurricular and volunteer activities rather than incur penalties.
Among the programs affected, King said, are ACE-IT exams, written after school hours, and meetings with parents outside of school hours.
"We can't tell people to violate walkout orders," King said.
Below: Laid-off Coquitlam district teachers wear their lay-off number
However, in the midst of the tense bargaining standoff, the CTA president said teachers have been buoyed by the succession of rallies that have taken place in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. He believes concern about budget cuts in School District 43 has galvanized support in the Tri-Cities for public education.
But the union head said he's disappointed with what he calls the silence of local school trustees, who didn't show up at last Friday's teacher rally in Port Coquitlam or who haven't publicly taken a stand in support of teachers in the current dispute with the provincial government.
"They're just sitting it out," King said of the School District 43 board of education, which recently approved $13.4 million in cuts — and hundreds of layoffs — to balance its budget.
The board later approved a "needs" budget — a shadow budget that shows what the district believes it needs to maintain services — and a trip to Victoria to plead for more funding.
The trip to the capital has been postponed but trustees are supportive of the teachers' plight, said board chair Melissa Hyndes, who said she had to cancel her plans to speak at Friday's teacher rally because of an emergency meeting to deal with CTA questions resulting from a lockout order.
"There's not one board member that isn't on board," said Hyndes, a Port Moody trustee.
"Had we not received the questions in the letter, we would have been there," she said, adding that the board and school district are caught in the middle of the dispute and are legally required to follow lockout rules imposed by the BC Public School Employers' Association.
"Our hands are tied when it comes to following those directives."