Despite months of inaction, teachers in Greater Victoria are hopeful the infusion of new trustees to the board of education will help resolve some of the local issues in the ongoing labour dispute between teachers and the province.
“I’m very much hoping that at a local level, the change in the board will mean that (the Greater Victoria School District) will have a different approach toward bargaining at the local level and that we’ll actually be meeting,” said Greater Victoria teachers’ Association president Tara Ehrcke.
On Nov. 19, four candidates endorsed by the teachers’ association – Edith Loring-Kuhanga, Diane McNally, Deborah Nohr and Catherine Alpha – were elected to the Greater Victoria board of education. All are new to the board except Alpha.
B.C. schools have been mired in job action that has seen teachers abstain from administrative duties since September.
The association’s six-person bargaining team is comprised of teachers. Locally, they’re in negotiations with representatives of the Greater Victoria School District, led by human resources director Kyle Cormier.
The two sides haven’t met since June 30, the day the B.C.’s contract with 40,000 teachers expired.
The district is ready to meet anytime to negotiate local items, Cormier said, adding that the scope of local and provincial items must first be negotiated between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association, bargaining agent for the province’s 60 boards of education.
Board of education trustee Peg Orcherton was an observer during the June negotiations. She said the final negotiations on June 30 marked eight days of talking about issues beyond the control of the local district.
Pay, benefits and working hours are negotiated provincially. Other items, such as health and safety planning have been considered local issues.
“The GVTA is refusing unless we agree to discuss the bigger issues that we have no authority over,” Orcherton said, noting there is a cost involved in continuing discussions.
Ehrcke has a different take on why the two sides haven’t met since June. The teachers’ association has put forward 24 meeting dates in September and October which the district was not interested in attending, Ehrcke said.
“Even if there’s a dispute over what can be on the agenda, that’s no excuse not to meet,” she said. “Once they come and meet with us, there are some items that we all agree we can talk about, and we can talk about those.”
“The only thing (new trustees) may be able to do is, if we have discussions, give their opinion on what we should be doing, but I’d be a little bit concerned … as to whose perspective they’re representing,” Orcherton said.
Meanwhile, students across B.C. will be receiving blank report cards this holiday season as little progress has been made at the provincial table, despite meetings between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and their counterparts on the provincial association bargaining on behalf of school districts.
“Talking to each other is the first prerequisite, but (a resolution) will be dependent on the government feeling enough pressure so that some money will be provided and meaningful bargaining can happen,” Ehrcke said.
“We really need to rebuild these relationships because once bargaining’s over, the district will be working with teachers,” Orcherton added.
Provincial versus local issues
Provincial matters include:
• Hours of work
• Paid leave
Local matters include:
• Use of school facilities, including bulletin boards and internal mail
• Health and safety
• Aides, volunteers and teacher assistants
• Extra-curricular activities and staff meetings
• Local involvement in board of education budget process
• Race relations and gender equity
• First Nations curriculum
• Fund raising and classroom expenses
• Long term personal leave and deferred salary/self funded leave