Column: Dysfunctional education relationship needs to be fixed

Few labour disputes have been as bitter as the standoff between the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the provincial government.

Few labour disputes have been as bitter and as entrenched as the standoff between the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the provincial government. With millions of dollars separating the chance of a deal before month’s end, even the #1 go-to guy Vince Ready said thanks but no thanks to helping them resolve the mess. While BCTF is looking for a plan B mediator, thoughts are that mediation at this state of the game won’t yield a deal.

Meanwhile, kids and parents are caught in the middle worrying about grades, report cards and the assurance that summer school will be open for those needing/wanting to take extra courses or upgrade their marks in anticipation of making their course-load lighter next school year. I hate to say, assuming there is one.

Searching for an answer, Mike Lombardi, vice-chair of the Vancouver School Board floated the idea on Wednesday of appointing an industrial inquiry commissioner to bring the parties together. Apparently, another teacher’s dispute was resolved that way back in 2005. The commissioner, Lombardi said, would have the power to make binding public recommendations to be put before the two sides.

With nothing else in sight, why not?

Just about everyone is fed up with this fight. It’s become, quite frankly, dysfunctional. And with this school year winding down, the provincial government has applied to the Labour Relations Board to have summer school designated an essential service, forcing striking teachers to teach remedial courses to high school students.

Half of the province’s school districts run summer schools and some 50,000 students take advantage of them not only to improve their grades but to get ahead of the curve. Some of them are international students needing special programs but the province is focusing on the remedial level to get essential service status.

But if that flies and summer school is deemed ‘essential’, why isn’t school essential? After all, according to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Children, every child has the fundamental right to an education. It’s pretty harsh that the BCTF has already decided to picket summer school facilities should they be up and running. That’s a pretty brutal way of punishing students trying to get ahead.

According to Minister of Education Peter Fassbender, the union’s wage and benefit demands alone are more than twice what other unions have settled for. And other contract demands have pushed the two parties millions of dollars apart.

The province is in a strong position. It is years away from another election, having won a majority last year, and they are sticking to the balanced budget mandate. The teachers aren’t the only unionized workforce to be dealt with. The province has settled with other unions in which public sector workers have agreed to a modest 5.5 per cent raise over five years compared to the teachers’ demand for an 8 per cent raise with a hefty $5,000 signing bonus. Never mind the millions attached to class size and composition. The province won’t ink a deal in which teachers get way more than anyone else.

While the traditional school year has wound down schools on the alternate, year-round calendar are really getting hit as their year doesn’t finish until the end of July. With no settlement, those students could miss six weeks of school, which is totally unacceptable.

The province and the BCTF are at a stalemate in a long, bitter 12 year fight and it seems the public are equally divided. In a recent Insights West poll commissioned by CTV News, households with children in public school supported the teachers 46 per cent while 47 per cent supported the government.

This mess has to be settled.