Education was a hot topic – Top Stories of 2012

The bargaining between the provincial government and teachers' federation occupied much of the news in the first half of 2012.

Education and bargaining between the provincial government and the teachers’ federation were a hot topic for much of 2012.

While teachers are back to work, and students are back to class, work is still being done behind the scenes to attempt to fix the bargaining process between teachers and the government.

In October, Premier Christy Clark announced a review of teacher bargaining, with a goal of reaching a 10-year agreement that would put an end to decades of battles with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF)

Clark and Education Minister Don McRae acknowledged at a Vancouver news conference that changing the culture of confrontation between the B.C. government and teachers won’t be easy and vowed to put even the most contentious issues on the table for discussion. That includes class size and special needs support, key issues in contract disputes and court actions in recent years.

“Our first goal is long-term labour stability with teachers in British Columbia,” Clark said. “Our second goal is to improve how government interacts and works with the BCTF.”

The offer came as the BCTF continued a court challenge to a two-year wage freeze that extends until June 2013.

After a year of negotiations and work-to-rule by teachers, a proposed settlement between the BCTF and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) was reached June 26, just days before the June 30 deadline for mediator Charles Jago to either help the two parties achieve a negotiated settlement or issue a report with non-binding recommendations.

The June contract extension came after a turbulent year that stretched back into 2011.

In early March 2012, teachers walked off the job for three days. This step followed a province-wide vote in which 87 per cent of teachers voted “yes” to escalating job action from the limited “teach only” campaign that began in September 2011.

The BCTF strike vote came after the provincial government tabled Bill 22, legislation that was designed to suspend the current job action by teachers, set a “cooling off” period and appoint a mediator to facilitate bargaining.

B.C. teachers had been without a contract since June. While the teachers continued to fight for improved classroom conditions, collective bargaining rights and other benefits, the government was sticking to its net zero policy of negotiating public sector contracts that don’t include cost increases.

Education Minister George Abbott introduced Bill 22, legislation “designed to suspend the current job action by teachers, set a ‘cooling off’ period, appoint a mediator to facilitate bargaining and implement a new $165-million Learning Improvement Fund.”

However, the BCTF said the bill hurts students and attacks teachers’ rights by wiping out all current class-size and composition limits, taking away school board accountability and a teacher’s right to be consulted about their classes.

Students at Ladysmith and Chemainus secondary schools left the classroom March 2 to participate in a province-wide student walkout to support their teachers.

Armed with homemade picket signs, approximately 20-30 students at LSS stood outside school property.

The students said they would like to see more resources put into the classroom for things like updated textbooks and fairer wages for their teachers.

At Chemainus Secondary School, about 30-40 students came out to wave signs at passing cars.

Later in the spring, teachers withdrew from voluntary services as part of the action plan to resist Bill 22.

Some sports and special school trips were cancelled. Parents pitched in extra effort to keep certain events running, and the fate of extracurricular activities varied from school to school.