Opinion

Editorial — Lots of politics in judge's ruling on class size and composition

A court decision on Monday awarding the B.C. Teachers Federation $2 million in damages, and ordering a return to class size and composition provisions in a teachers’ contract from almost 15 years ago, is almost certain to lead to political strife.

Some estimates suggest the cost of the judgment to taxpayers could total $1 billion. If that indeed is the case, the provincial government is almost certain to appeal, as Premier Christy Clark hinted on Tuesday.

The ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin speculated (because there is no hard evidence on the record, due to cabinet confidentiality) that the provincial government deliberately stalled on renegotiating the class size and composition provisions with the BCTF in 2011. Griffin was the author of an earlier court ruling calling for new legislation within a year.

In her ruling, she stated “(Negotiators’) strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union.  The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.”

Nothing else in the lengthy ruling, other than a suggestion that cabinet documents back up this assertion, offers any proof. Those cabinet documents have not been released, but were used as evidence in the trial.

The class size and composition provisions were inserted in a contract imposed by the former NDP government on school boards. They had resisted, fearing that the rigid guidelines would make it very difficult to properly staff classrooms. In fact, what happened is that classrooms which were one student over the limit were sometimes split in two, or the extra student was transported to another school. While this certainly benefited teachers, its impact on students was questionable.

There is no doubt that if classes are too large, it has an impact on how students learn. And the number of special needs students in a classroom must be at a manageable level. But hard and fast limits, imposed by a judge, will be costly to taxpayers, and have limited benefit for students.

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