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Teachers vote on deal, results expected Friday

Jun 28 2012

Students and parents can expect less labour strife in public schools and a return to normal extracurricular activities next year if teachers ratify a tentative deal with the B.C. government, union and education officials said Wednesday.

But B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert said it will take time to repair damage caused by the protracted labour dispute.

Teachers, who were without a contract for the entire year, pressed their demands by refusing to write report cards and meet with administrators. In the spring, they staged a three-day walkout before withdrawing from coaching and other volunteer activities.

The tentative deal means no further job action for at least a year, but the tension in schools is likely to continue, Lambert said.

"It's not returning back to normal, that's for sure," she said, adding that teachers remain frustrated by underfunding, overcrowded classes, and a lack of support from principals, superintendents and school trustees.

"We saw our leaders in public education abrogate their responsibility and that was profoundly disturbing to teachers."

Others are more optimistic that a negotiated deal will usher in a period of healing.

"It's probably good for schools," said John Bird, president of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, "It's certainly good for kids, because in the fall we'll have as close to a normal situation as I think we could have hoped for."

Bird acknowledged that tensions remain, but he said parents can play a role in bringing people together. "We're going to take the opportunity this provides and try to run with it and make schools as functional as we can in September."

Saanich school board chairman Wayne Hunter said that even a "bare bones" negotiated deal is better than one imposed by government.

"I just felt that everyone in the system - even the big partners - had realized that the damage to public education needed to be repaired," he said. "We needed to end the year on a positive tone."

The union reached the surprise agreement with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association late Tuesday following meetings with mediator Charles Jago. The agreement adheres to the province's net-zero mandate, provides modest improvements in benefits, but includes no wage increases for teachers or changes to controversial classsize and composition rules.

The two-year deal, which is retroactive to July 1, 2011, will be voted upon by teachers and the results released late Friday.

Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, said Wednesday that she plans to vote against the agreement because it fails to deal with wages, teacher preparation time, or class size and composition.

"Nothing in this agreement addresses these concerns for working and learning conditions and that is a loss for both teachers and students," she wrote on her blog.

Lambert said the union was "bullied" into the deal by a government that threatened to legislate a contract this summer. She said Jago played a key role in convincing the employers to drop demands for a number of concessions.

"I think he pushed BCPSEA off many unreasonable positions," she said.

Premier Christy Clark said the real winners will be parents and students, who can expect a school year free of interruptions and protest. "I think a lot of parents and a lot of kids will look forward to that," she said.

The BCTF wasted little time in launching its next attack on the Liberal government. Early Wednesday, the union filed a new court challenge to the Education Improvement Act, which forced an end to teachers' job action.

The suit claims that the law, also known as Bill 22, violates teachers' constitutional right to free collective bargaining.

lkines@timescolonist.com