Moving B.C.ís education system forward
By George Abbott
Minister of Education
March 19, 2012
VICTORIA Ė Now that Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, has been passed by the legislature, teachersí strike action will be suspended and a mediator will be appointed to work with the BC Teachersí Federation and the BC Public School Employers Association toward a negotiated agreement.
This school year has been challenging for all involved and I am hopeful that through the mediation process, both parties will have the opportunity to work together to resolve issues and reach a negotiated agreement.
To that end, I have asked the BCTF and the BCPSEA to submit names to be considered as potential mediators. I have stated that all potential candidates should have a strong background in education, be held in high regard by the education community and have effective dispute resolution skills to ensure the parties are provided with a strong foundation to move forward.
The mediator will have a balanced mandate to discuss a range of issues with the parties to reach a negotiated agreement that respects the net-zero mandate. This includes BCTF issues like classroom organization and BCPSEA issues such as professional development, as well as any other issues important to the parties.
Despite a year of negotiations, the parties have not had a meaningful discussion about these issues and many other important topics. Unfortunately, in the absence of proper discussion, people often make the worst assumptions about each otherís objectives. Therefore, I believe itís important to clarify the governmentís position on some key issues.
The first issue is seniority. While seniority is important, qualifications to teach a subject must also be considered. Several school districts have a good balance between seniority and qualifications but this is not the case in every district. I hope the parties will be able to work with the mediator to establish consistency in this area so that students receive the best possible instruction in every subject.
The second issue is teacher evaluation. We need to work with the BCTF to design an evaluation system that helps teachers succeed by letting them know what they are doing well and what they may need to improve. I am hopeful that the mediator can work with the parties to design a positive approach to teacher evaluation.
Since being appointed Education Minister one year ago, Iíve visited 100 schools throughout the province and met with hundreds of teachers to discuss issues such as class size and composition and how to support students with special needs. Bill 22 contains many initiatives that will address these issues.
First, Bill 22 implements a new Learning Improvement Fund to address complex class composition issues by providing $30 million this year, $60 million next year and $75 million every year after that. Teachers, administrators and school district staff can work together to decide how to best use these additional resources to support their students.†
Second, Bill 22 maintains existing class-size limits so that kindergarten classes cannot exceed 22 students, grades 1 to 3 classes cannot exceed 24 students and grades 4 to 12 classes have a maximum of 30 students. As is currently the case, grades 4 to 12 will be able to exceed 30 students only in exceptional circumstances. In these cases, teachers will receive additional compensation.
Finally, Bill 22 creates more meaningful consultation between administrators and teachers by requiring consultation to occur on all class organization matters. Previous legislation required consultation only in specific cases.†
While I am happy that Bill 22 has passed, I regret that I am now one of many ministers of Education, of all political stripes, that had to use legislation to address a BCTF strike. Unfortunately this has become the norm with the BCTF, which proposed a $2-billion increase to wages and benefits while virtually every other public sector union negotiated net-zero agreements that respected the governmentís challenging financial circumstances.
We needed to move forward to provide students and parents with certainty. With the passage of Bill 22, reports cards will be now issued so parents receive the information they need to support their kids. Collaborative meetings between teachers and administrators can take place so that students receive the services they need to be successful.
Overall, Bill 22 takes a reasonable, respectful and responsible approach that provides all parties with a real opportunity to move beyond the challenges that have characterized this school year and work together to improve our education system. I hope that everyone will work hard to move forward and make the most of this opportunity.
Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Education
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