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Teachers' strike: Parksville Qualicum Beach leaders optimistic about new talks

The provincial government and B.C. Teachers' Federation are scheduled to resume talks tomorrow.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCTF president Jim Iker are both expressing optimism, saying their full bargaining teams will be present and each side will make contract presentations.

Locally people say they are also optimistic, but aside from small regular rallies there isn't much going on as people wait on the provincial situation to see what September 2 — the first scheduled day of the new school year — will bring. Kelly Wray, president of the District 69 Parent Advisory Council is currently sending parents a survey to canvas local opinion to take to a summit meeting called by the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils for Aug. 16.

"Parents are worried about September," she said, not wanting to get into her personal opinion, saying she'd rather wait and see what her members are saying.

She did say that some parents aren’t happy that the $40 a day offered by the government only covers students up to age 12, and that the daycare it’s meant to subsidize is not the same as school.

B.C. finance minister Mike de Jong announced last week that parents will be invited to apply online for the subsidy if the strike extends into the school year.

Union president Jim Iker responded in a news release that the offer was a “scheme to strip funding from B.C. students… (which) will not help improve class sizes, increase support for children with special needs, or provide more one-on-one time for all students.”

In District 69, there has been concern about whether schools — reconfigured after four elementary schools were closed — will be ready for September, with the strike slowing work down.

But Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Debbie Morran said they stopped picketing school sites as of July 14 to allow the district to ensure schools are ready for students.

“We hope that during these next four weeks the government will agree to enter into a fair mediation process which will result in an agreement, and see us returning to work in September, with our schools renovated and ready for our students,” she said.

She invites the public to join them in weekly rallies Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. in front of the Parksville Community Park and 8 a.m. Thursdays in front of MLA Michelle Stillwell’s office.

B.C.’s 41,000 teachers have been on a full strike since June 17 after months of escalating job action. The last media reports had the two sides within a percentage point on wages, but still far apart on benefits and two supreme court rulings to reinstate teacher’s bargaining rights on working conditions, class size and composition.

The government has characterized the teacher’s demands as unaffordable when compared with other public sector workers.

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