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Rocky start to school year

George Abbott - File
George Abbott
— image credit: File

Education Minister George Abbott kept using variations of the word “challenge” during a half-hour telephone conference call with reporters on Tuesday to discuss the coming resumption of classes.

“It may be a somewhat more challenging school year,” the minister said.

Abbott was talking specifically about the deadlocked contract talks with teachers, but he sounded equally gloomy about the impact of the HST defeat on funding for new schools in Langley, where population growth in some neighbourhoods has outpaced school construction.

“It [the HST vote] adds an additional dimension into what is a challenging situation,” the minister said.

There is a need for capital investment, he added, but it won’t be easy to fund.

Even without the loss of revenue from the HST, the drop in revenues created by the international economic “meltdown” has forced the government to tighten its belt, Abbott warned.

“It is not a time we can be expansive when it comes to spending,” he said.

“We don’t have that choice.”

The current contract talks with B.C. teachers are not going well, Abbott told reporters.

“There has not been much progress at the table to date” he said.

“There is not a lot of room for optimism.”

On Wednesday, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation gave 72 hours notice of job action.

That means the teachers work-to-rule campaign will begin when school resumes on Tuesday, Sept. 6 with educators refusing to perform anything but essential services.

The Langley Teachers’ Association (LTA) will have a new leader heading into what promises to be a combative school year.

On July 1, LTA first vice-president Gail Chaddock-Costello (pictured at right) took over from Susan Fonseca, who has gone to the BCTF headquarters to work in the Field Service Division, which assists local teachers associations with matters like grievances.

On Monday, the new LTA president met with staff at the school district to discuss the details of the work-to-rule campaign.

“We will be doing classroom work,” said Chaddock-Costello, a teacher of students with special needs.

“What we won’t be doing is administrative work.”

That includes no preparation of report cards; no attending staff meetings unless the meeting deals with an emergency situation; no student assemblies and no supervision of students before and after school, at lunch hour and during recess.

Chaddock-Costello said teachers will take steps to ensure student safety isn’t compromised.

In Langley, the rules that require the district to hire on-call teachers for temporary fill-in work will be strictly enforced, Chaddock-Costello said.

She said Langley, like other cash-strapped school districts, has been saving money by juggling teachers, for example closing the library so the librarian can substitute for another teacher.

She said the union is considering holding public information meetings for local parents as the dispute progresses.

“We want to keep the misinformation to a minimum.”

The Langley School District response to the teacher job action was outlined Tuesday by Superintendent Cheryle Beaumont (seen at left) in a written statement that promised administrators and managers will provide before school, after school, recess and lunch hour supervision.

Beaumont stressed the negotiation of a new contract is a provincial matter  between the BC Public School Employers Association and the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

“The process is beyond Langley School District’s control,” Beaumont said.

Teachers’ Federation bargainers said B.C. teachers are paid considerably less than their counterparts in other provinces, who make as much as 20 per cent more and live in less expensive regions of Canada, according to a BCTF comparison.

An LTA bargaining advisory said talks bogged down over a number of employer proposals, including ones that would eliminate promotion based on years of service and permit the forced transfer of a teacher from one school to another for “educational, financial, or administrative reasons” on one month’s notice, once a year.

Proposed annual evaluations and the ability to fire a teacher based on a  single bad evaluation were also issues.

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