The B.C. Liberals keep suggesting that a settlement with the teachers is possible, but that the government’s last offer is “about as good as it’s going to get.” In other words, despite there being no significant concessions on the government’s part, as long as teachers completely capitulate, a deal can be reached. How very generous of them. This attitude all but guarantees a long and protracted strike. On issues of salary a deal may be possible. The two sides are close, but only because teachers have moved so significantly on this issue. Yet on class size and class composition, the distance between is vast, and the B.C. Liberals have not budged an inch.
The government’s position is simply unacceptable to the vast majority of teachers. The government maintains that it is totally appropriate to have a Grade 4 class with 30 students or more, that there should be no language on class composition or specialist teacher staffing ratios, and that expecting school districts to actually provide special support to students with special needs would somehow violate the rights of those students. The BCTF wants a restoration of the class size and composition language that was illegally struck in 2002, and the B.C. Supreme Court has ordered that this language be restored, yet the employer insists they can’t afford to, repeating the claim that to restore this struck language would cost “in the order of $2 billion annually.” $2 billion annually would be sufficient to hire over 22,000 teachers, yet stripping our contract did not result in the firing of 22,000 teachers (or anywhere close to that number). It would probably involve hiring an additional 2,000 teachers, at a cost of less than $190 million annually. It would increase the cost of funding public education by a mere 4% per year – and teachers have already paid for that increased funding. In 1998 teachers gave up salary so to gain that language on class size and composition, and the salary we gave up in that round of bargaining has never been restored to us.
For decades teachers have fought for the rights of our students to receive the supports they require. We have bargained for those rights, sacrificed salary for those rights, fought in the courts for twelve years (and counting) for those rights. Does anyone really expect that we would suddenly abandon that battle? Besides the government, does anyone really want us to?