The 2011-2012 school year has been a dizzying merry-go-round of politics and conflict. All parties involved — the BC Liberal government, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the media — have inundated the public with details, of which there are simply too many to make sense of.
But, in essence, the debate comes down to one single and solitary point. It’s not wage increases for teachers, or capped class sizes, or benefits packages and sick days. Nor is it library assistants or any number of the issues that have risen to the surface as the school months have churned by.
Simply put, it’s the Liberal government’s net-zero mandate, which decrees it can’t negotiate any new contracts with public sector employees that will cost the province additional money.
While the promise of a balanced budget has earned many a politician the trust — and votes — of a financially-concerned public that wants assurances its tax dollars are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner, the teachers are putting their foot down and demanding that more — not less, not the same, but more — money be invested in the public education system.
The province of B.C. has been involved in some very expensive projects over the years. The 2010 Winter Olympics, BC Hydro’s IPPs and the whole PST/HST debacle, to name just a few, don’t look that good on the books and it’s no wonder the Liberals are trying to cut corners. But austerity measures should not affect education, and with corporate taxes having dropped 6.5 per cent, it would appear that public education is having to pay another sector’s bill.
Investing in public education guarantees a healthy economy and healthy communities down the road. If anything, our provincial government ought to be looking at ways to invest as much as it can into public education and negotiate working conditions that will assist young students in surpassing international standards of excellence. Not just reserve the right of a meaningful education for those whose parents are wealthy enough to pay the exorbitant fees of private schools.
Although the Labour Board’s ruling in favour of the teachers is not a solution by any means, it is a sign post offering some direction in the storm.