School district and teachers’ union go before arbitrator

The teachers' union and the Nanaimo school district could settle a dispute over class size laws in front of an arbitrator instead of a Supreme Court judge.

The teachers’ union and the Nanaimo school district could settle a dispute over class size laws in front of an arbitrator instead of a Supreme Court judge.

Last fall, the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court against the Nanaimo school board and the superintendent over the superintendent’s annual class-size report.

A one-day hearing scheduled in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver last March was postponed to July so the parties could set aside time for a three-day hearing.

But in July, a Supreme Court judge adjourned the case because lawyers for both sides agreed a recent Court of Appeal decision pertaining to another school district means an arbitrator might have the authority to deal with the matter.

It’s what the union wanted all along, said Derek DeGear, NDTA president.

Initially, the union was told this wasn’t a matter for an arbitrator because it wasn’t related to the collective agreement between teachers and the employer and so the union took the matter to the Supreme Court, he said.

DeGear said the union wants an arbitrator because it believes an arbitrator’s decision would have more impact for teachers provincewide – securing the ability to grieve through an arbitrator would give other locals an ability to take this grievance path in the future.

The two parties will appear before an arbitrator Sept. 17-18 to determine if the appeal court ruling means  the matter can be dealt with through arbitration. If so, the arbitrator will rule on whether the content of the superintendent’s report meets the requirements of legislation.

The union is alleging former superintendent Mike Munro failed to produce an annual class size report for trustees that included a rationale for all classrooms in the district with more than 30 students – his report gives two general reasons for oversize classrooms – and that he violated School Act requirements to do so.

The NDTA is seeking a separate and more detailed rationale for every classroom.

DeGear said that would help trustees make a better decision about whether classrooms are appropriate for student learning.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said the change tp an arbitrator came at the request of the union.