Union reps for School District 43's 2,300 teachers have called on the board of education to support them in their demands for improved special needs funding, benefits and wages.
Flanked by two of her colleagues, Coquitlam Teachers Association president Teresa Grandinetti asked trustees at a board of education meeting Tuesday to call for an independent mediator to resolve the impasse in contract talks and ask the government to negotiate outside of its "net zero" mandate.
"I am asking the board to be both visible and vocal in its demands of government; to properly fund its public education system," Grandinetti said.
She said teachers were upset by comments made in a Feb. 3 article in the Tri-City News by board of education chair Melissa Hyndes who was asked to speculate on the future of contract negotiations given the distance between the teacher demands of 15% over three years and the government's net zero mandate.
Speaking personally, Hyndes said she thought the government should step in because both sides were far apart although she admitted legislated agreements were not the best.
The board subsequently reaffirmed its support for the collective bargaining process in a statement to the media.
Grandinetti said teachers were inflamed by the comments and a few of her "more reactive" colleagues were chomping at the bit to "rise up in anger." She then approached the district for an opportunity to speak directly to trustees.
"Why was I and so many of my CTA colleagues so upset about the board's initial comments? Why are the teachers of Coquitlam committed to the job action? It is definitely not to get out of writing report cards. As a colleague wrote to me today - he has done more reporting since September than he has ever done in any of his previous years of teaching. Teachers are committed to securing a collective agreement because of the reality of teaching and learning conditions in Coquitlam classrooms," Grandinetti said.
Among the concerns of teachers are more high needs students in classrooms, more paperwork, the loss of specialist teachers and a need for classroom preparation time.
As well, she said, teachers would like to see an improvement to benefit plans that haven't changed in 20 years and a salary increase.
Grandinetti said she would like the board to ask the government to re-examine its funding for special needs students, restore working conditions to those that were in place prior to Bills 27 and 28, and be critical of its new Learning Initiative Fund of $30 million a year, which would amount to little more than "pocket change" or 29 cents per student.
"As a member of the BCSTA (BC School Trustees Association) and the BCPSEA (BC Public Schools Employers Association), ask your partner group to advocate for public education; ask the government to place more into the system not to do more with less."
The board of education is expected to respond to the CTA's request at its next board meeting, slated for March 6.
In the meantime, a fact finder was expected to provide a report on the possibility of a settlement to Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid Thursday.