The province and B.C. Teachers Federation have negotiated an interim settlement to their long-running dispute over staffing levels, a $50 million fund to hire up to 1,100 teachers for the current school year.
Education Minister Mike Bernier announced the agreement Thursday, stressing that there will be additional ongoing funding in the B.C. Liberal government’s February budget to finance a full agreement.
The announcement is a step towards the end of a lengthy legal battle between the government and the union that first began in 2002, when then-education minister Christy Clark removed class size and special needs support staffing ratios from the union contract.
The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in the teachers’ favour in November 2016.
Bernier said negotiations may continue for some time, but the province didn’t want to wait.
“If it is quite a few more months, that would be an opportunity lost, and we didn’t want to do that,” Bernier said.
The actual number of teachers hired will be determined by school districts and their local unions. The new positions will include classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech language pathologists, behaviour intervention specialists, school psychologists, aboriginal support teachers, counsellors including for mental health, English as a second language teachers, and teacher librarians.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman said the interim agreement means more teachers “in a matter of weeks,” but the union and the government will resume meetings next week to restore the 2002 contract language upheld by the courts.
“It’s going to take a significantly higher investment than $50 million to undo the damage this government has done to a generation of students,” Hansman said.
“B.C. teachers will be looking closely at the Feb. 21 provincial budget to make sure that funding is provided to implement the full scope of the restored language.”
NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the agreement represents a “down payment on restoring 15 years of cuts” to B.C. public schools, after the B.C. Liberal government spent millions on lawyers to defend their actions and was finally forced to restore funding.
“We have something like 15,000 classrooms in British Columbia right now that are out of compliance, even with the government’s own guidelines, so they’re already behind in the absence of hard targets,” Fleming said.