Recent changes to the School Act could lead the B.C. education system down a troubling path, worries Chilliwack Teachers Association president Clint Johnston.
With the introduction of Bill 11, the provincial government will be giving itself new authority to regulate ongoing teacher training, along with the authority to impose shared services arrangements on school districts.
It’s the latter that Johnston finds the most troublesome.
“That they will essentially be able to overrule the elected representatives in a community is worrisome to me,” he said. “What concerns me is the kind of the centralization of authority toward the ministry, to be able to rule in place of elected officials.”
The bill is a long one, and Johnston admits he’s still working his way through the hefty document, which was released on March 26. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation was notified just hours before the bill was introduced into the legislature.
“It uses language that seems to indicate the ministry is going to have a lot more direct oversight,” Johnston says. “It’s very top down.”
The provincial government can’t serve each community as well as each locally elected school board and their well-trained school district staff, he added.
Bill 11 also sets out to regulate teacher training by “building a framework for continuing professional development.”
But Johnston said the framework is already in place, and works well.
“The idea that there isn’t any oversight or that teachers are not subject to professional development is ridiculous,” he said. In addition to taking part in professional development activities on professional days, teachers are able to log self-directed development.
The new bill will allow the BCTF and the education ministry to define professional development, education minister Peter Fassbender said.
“There is no legislated requirement for professional development, nor is there a definition of what the route to that might be and what some of those tools are,” Fassbender told reporters Thursday. “That is why it is important that we work with the teaching profession to define that moving forward, and that’s what this bill allows us to do.”
BCTF president Jim Iker said education ministry officials have assured him there will be two years of consultation before changes to professional development are imposed. Any changes “need to be properly funded and respect teachers’ professional autonomy,” he said.
Iker was more concerned about another change that gives the ministry authority to impose shared services arrangements on school districts. He called the move “a diversion from underfunding,” after the government demanded $29 million in administrative savings from districts, many of whom say they can’t find any more savings.
Fassbender said school districts will have time to develop shared service plans themselves before anything is imposed by Victoria.
-with files from Tom Fletcher