An impasse in the B.C. teacher’s strike could complicate District 69’s school reconfigurations over the summer.
The school board voted April 29 to close four elementary schools (Parksville, Winchelsea, French Creek and Qualicum Beach), and reconfigure the middle schools as Kindergarten to Grade 7.
“Once the school closure bylaw passed, we had to act in an expedient nature to notify the ministry (of education),” said superintendent Rollie Koop, adding that a lot of work has already been done towards the transition, including legal work and changing names and catchment areas.
But the physical work they have to do over the summer to prepare the schools for different age and grade configurations is being delayed by picket lines, which the CUPE support staff won’t cross.
“We are picketing over the summer to apply pressure to the district to lobby Minister Fassbender,” said Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association (MATA) president Debbie Morran.
“We want a contract and we’re very frustrated,” she said, adding that they also want to “dispel the myth that teachers just go away for the summer and cross our fingers.”
“We are doing what we can in our small way in Mount Arrowsmith,” she said.
“I’m not sure Victoria or BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) is motivated by our situation here,” Koop countered, adding that this is one of the few districts where teachers are picketing through the summer. He said he recognizes it is their right to picket wherever MATA members work.
He said work crews have gotten into schools on weekends and evenings, but then picketers show up and they have to leave.
“There is a rumour in the community that this means those schools won’t close,” Koop said, “but that’s not true — we need to proceed. The ship has sailed, the decision has been made.”
He said too much has already been done and changing any of the decisions would require a whole process in reverse.
If the strike continues through the summer, Koop said that in September “people are going to have to accept that they will have to work within the conditions that are not necessarily what they want,” indicating the district will do whatever it can to start classes in the new school configurations.
He said the district’s two-year, staged implementation plan may have to be extended and it will prioritize the most pressing issues.
Meanwhile, there doesn’t appear to be any end to the strike in sight after a second potential mediator refused to get involved in the provincial dispute last week, with both sides blaming the preconditions set by the other.
Both sides say they are ready to continue negotiations, but none are currently scheduled.
Teachers first voted to start ‘work-to-rule’ type job action March 6 and escalated in stages to a full strike as of June 17, cutting the school year short by two weeks. The main issues are pay and two Supreme Court rulings to reinstate teacher’s bargaining rights over working conditions and class size/composition.