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Emotions run high at Qualicum school board meeting

These teachers were picketing outside Kwalikum Secondary School in Qualicum Beach on Tuesday. - CANDACE WU PHOTO
These teachers were picketing outside Kwalikum Secondary School in Qualicum Beach on Tuesday.
— image credit: CANDACE WU PHOTO

With little sign of progress in the provincial labour situation, emotions were running high at the first School District 69 board meeting of the school year on Tuesday night

"We recognize we're in the midst of what is a dispute between the provincial parties," District 69 superintendent Rollie Koop told the board.

"We value our local relations with CUPE and with the Mount Arrowsmith Teacher's Association (MATA) and we want to do everything we can to allow the parties to work through that to bring pressure where we can, encouragement where we may," he said in the context of the readiness of reconfigured schools.

MATA president Debbie Morran wasn't happy with Koop's comments, waiting for question period at the end to rebut.

"I just want to make a comment Rollie, in terms of your perception that this dispute is between the provincial parties, because I can tell you that for every single teacher in this audience tonight, this dispute is not about the provincial parties," she said, clearly upset.

"This dispute is all about teachers, every year, in every local, going out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their classroom because they don't have the tools that they need to teach the students in their class."

“It’s about every teacher, in every local, including every school in our district who see students in their class not getting the support they need and trying their best to do everything they can to make that child experience success and for you to sit there and say that this dispute is between provincial parties is a slap in the face to everybody that’s here tonight,” she said getting emotional as board chair Lynnette Kershaw interrupted her saying it was inappropriate.

Kershaw supported and paraphrased Koop’s comments as saying that the bargaining situation is out of local hands. “We at this local level cannot affect, or be part of that decision making process.”

Morran continued, quietly, “That’s the apathetic — we can’t do anything about this — that’s just going to drag this dispute on and on,” she said before leaving the room.

During her regular report earlier in the meeting, Morran had said that union representatives had come away from a provincial meeting in Kamloops, “with renewed solidarity and a determination to achieve a fair deal.”

“We can’t continue to maintain the system, buffering it against the $275 million that’s been removed each and every year since 2002,” she said, adding she is hopeful a deal can be reached in time for the beginning of the school year (Sept. 4 in this district).

She asked for parents, the community and “this board of education to call on (Education) Minister Fassbender… to get back to the bargaining table to start talking again,” she closed to a big applause from the full audience.

There are various rallies taking shape, including one at a location to be determined by District 69 parents and students at 9 a.m. Sept. 2 and a provincial one outside the premier’s Vancouver cabinet offices on Sept. 5. Kershaw pointed out that the board sent out a letter Aug. 8 “urging both sides to get children back to the classroom . . .  whatever that takes.”

In her regular update, CUPE local president Lisa Paine said she is disturbed by the government’s pledge to give parents of students under age 13, $40 a day.

“Wouldn’t that money be better utilized for a negotiated fair and reasonable settlement for the teachers? Us in CUPE certainly think so,” she said.

“The bigger picture is about divisiveness… having people who work together start to fight amongst each other and that’s not okay. That causes me and my members serious concerns,” she said, summing up that she hopes they can all work together for the students.

With school scheduled to start next Sept. 2 in most districts (Sept. 4 in District 69), the picket lines are back up after a summer break and the provincial government and teacher’s union don’t have talks scheduled.

After the Kamloops meeting, B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker demanded an immediate start to mediation, while the government is saying that the teachers’ pay and benefits demands are too far above other public sector settlements to negotiate.

Fassbender reiterated Monday, that the government has no desire to legislate the teachers back to work. Veteran mediator Vince Ready is monitoring the talks and has indicated he will step in if it would be productive, but both sides blame the other for a gulf that’s too wide for Ready to attempt to bridge.

Negotiations are complicated by the BCTF insisting on preconditions to talks based on two Supreme Court decisions in their favour over class size and composition that the province is appealing.

The government has tabled a clause that would allow either side to terminate any agreement if it dislikes the court outcome.

— with files from Jeff Nagel, Black Press

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