Cash-strapped Qualicum school district unlear about impact of BCTF court victory

The government has said the ruling could cost up to $275 million a year

Last week’s B.C. Supreme Court decision in favour of the B.C. Teacher’s Federation could have a local impact, but local officials say it is too early to know what that will be.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled that provincial legislation interfering with teachers’ bargaining rights was unconstitutional and a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ordered the province to pay $2 million in damages.

In April 2013, the court found the legislation had deleted bargaining terms and prohibited bargaining on a wide range of working conditions, including class size and composition and support for special needs students.

In her decision, Griffin wrote: “The freedom of workers to associate has long been recognized internationally and in Canada as an important aspect of a fair and democratic society. Collective action by workers helps protect individuals from unfairness in one of the most fundamental aspect of their lives, their employment.”

“Good things come to those who wait,” said Debbie Morran, president of the local Mount Arrowsmith Teacher’s Association. “And we have waited 12 years for this.”

Morran highlighted the changes that came under the collective agreements that Griffin ruled, “have been restored retroactively and can also be the subject of future bargaining.”

“What this means, we now have a generation of B.C. students who have been short-changed by this government,” Morran said, listing off the local effects.

“We currently have seven Kindergarten classes that are over our collective agreement limit, we have 20 classes, by figures in this district, in grades one, two and three that are over the limit.”

She said the current agreements also pose safety concerns in lab and shop classes and have meant students who need help “have been in overly complex classes and received less than one on one time with teachers than children who graduated prior to 2002.”

School District 69 board chair Lynnette Kershaw said it is still very early in the process and they haven’t had a chance to review what the ruling might mean locally, especially in light of the financial difficulties they are already dealing with, including considering closing schools.

She also pointed out that the government has said it would appeal the ruling, so things are still in process, but added that this district has done its best to “stay close to a good ratio,” in terms of class sizes and she hopes the ruling would not make this district “too far off the mark.”

“In an already stew of variables this is one more ingredient in the mix and how this flavours things is yet to be seen,” Kershaw said.

Though the judge said it was highly speculative, the government has said the ruling could cost up to $500 million retroactively, and up to $275 million a year going forward.

The decision says “it will be in the interests of the BCTF and the (employer) to negotiate an overall resolution to these claims through bargaining.”

“We want our class sizes restored, we need our specialist teachers re-hired, we want to give our children the education they deserve,” Morran said, summing up the union’s position.

— with files from Lissa Alexander

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