Classrooms in the Columbia Valley and across the province won’t soon be seeing any changes to class size and composition, after the B.C. Court of Appeal granted the province’s request last Wednesday (February 26th) for a stay on orders imposed in a major court decision in January.
That January 17th B.C. Supreme Court ruling, which effectively reinstates the 2002 collective bargaining agreement between teachers and the province, was appealed by the province in February — and while the appeal waits to be heard, the province asked for the stay, a move that prevents the need to spend between $300 million and $1 billion to hire more teachers across the province.
The decision on the stay came after Justice David Harris considered government arguments that included nine affidavits contributed by superintendents of B.C. school districts — including one from Rocky Mountain School District 6 superintendent Paul Carriere, after a request from the B.C. Ministry of Education’s Superintendent of Achievement.
“The affidavit I submitted does not take a position in the court case,” Mr. Carriere told the Valley Echo. “The question that guided the creation of the document was simple: if the pre-2002 contract language in the local teacher collective agreement were required to be immediately implemented in School District 6, what would the impacts be?”
Under the BC School Act, superintendents have a duty to provide information to the Education Minister as requested, and the School District 6 board of trustees was not required to pass a motion to allow the affidavit to go ahead.
In a media scrum held in Vancouver after the stay decision was announced, provincial Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the superintendents’ documents were crucial.
“I want to thank all the school districts that submitted affidavits to the court that really showed the impact of the judgment,” he said. “I think that had a large part to play in us being able to move forward now and see the justice process take its full course.”
Asked whether he feels the number of students per classroom should be a part of bargaining negotiations, Mr. Carriere noted class size limits were in the collective agreement prior to 2002, were later in legislation, and are now a provincial bargaining matter.
“We have worked with class size limits for a long time, whether they have been in agreements or legislation,” he said.
Last month, School District Six approved a budget of roughly $33 million for the 2014-2015 school year.
On the labour dispute, School District 6 has an official stance: that the solution to the conflict lies in a negotiated settlement between the government and B.C. teachers, rather than in the courts.
The last contract between the province and the B.C Teachers’ Federation expired in June 2013. Contract negotiations between the two sides resumed yesterday, March 4th, with the province still refusing to put class size and special needs support limits back into the contract, and the teachers yet to disclose a wage demand.
Yesterday was also the first day of a three-day vote by B.C. Teachers’ Federation members on a strike mandate, a move that could be a significant bargaining chip in the negotiations.