Dan Brooks’ 5-Point Common Sense Plan to Resolve the Education Dispute
#1 – Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government should drop its appeal of the latest ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
#2 – The province and teachers should sign a new, five-year contract that provides average salary increases of 1.5 per cent annually.
#3 – The province should provide the teachers with a $2,500 signing bonus, payable in two equal installments.
#4 – The issue of class size and composition will be addressed through the province’s Learning Improvement Fund.
#5 – Issues relating to past grievances and future benefits will be set aside until the fifth year of the contract (2017/18).
# 1 – Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government should drop its appeal of the latest ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
There is an old and wise saying: ‘It is foolish to throw good money after bad.’
Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government has wasted too much money – taxpayers’ money – losing court battles they had no hope of winning. That money should be better spent in our public-school classrooms.
In 2002, when Christy Clark was the Minister of Education, the government enacted Bill 28, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act. The teachers’ union took the legislation to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which ruled in April 2011 that Bill 28 was ‘unconstitutional’.
The court gave the Clark government a one-year grace period to replace the legislation, hopefully after ‘good faith’ negotiations with the teachers.
Instead, in 2012, the government unilaterally brought in Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.
The teachers once again went to the Supreme Court of B.C., and the court again ruled that the government legislation – virtually identical to the illegal Bill 28 – was ‘unconstitutional’.
The court further found that Premier Clark and her government had not negotiated with the teachers in good faith during the earlier grace-period. As a consequence, Victoria was ordered to pay $2 million to the teachers’ union – and those damages, of course, will be paid by B.C. taxpayers.
After both government bills were declared to be illegal, Premier Clark said she was going to hire a new lawyer based in downtown Vancouver – a ‘high-priced corporate lawyer’ in the words of Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer – to appeal the latest court ruling.
Dan Brooks believes that the Clark government should drop its plan to spend even more taxpayers’ dollars on fruitless legal action.
It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad, time to negotiate with teachers in ‘good faith,’ and time to reach a new agreement that is fair to taxpayers, teachers and students.
# 2 – The province and teachers should sign a new, five-year contract that provides average salary increases of 1.5 per cent annually.
The last collective agreement between the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation expired in June 2013. During the last school year – from July 2013 until June 2014 – teachers worked without a contract.
As an indication of the stubbornness on both sides of the dispute, the two parties have been unable to agree either on the length of a new contract, or when it should begin.
Premier Clark wanted a 10-year deal, starting in 2014/15 and running through to 2023/24. The government negotiators wanted to pretend that the last school-year (2013/14) never happened – it simply disappeared.
Later, the Clark government made a ‘concession’ – a new contract would be for six years, with the option to extend it to seven. The missing school year was still missing.
The teachers, on the other hand, want a five-year contract that covers the period from the expiration of their last agreement through to the end of 2017/18.
Dan Brooks believes that a new collective agreement should run from July 2013 to June 2018.
How much should B.C.’s public-school teachers be paid? Basically, the Clark government has offered a seven per cent salary increase over six years – plus a bonus called the Economic Stability Dividend; and the teachers have asked for eight per cent over five years.
According to the government’s own Budget and Fiscal Plan for 2014/15 to 2016/17, projected cost-of-living increases in B.C. are as follows:
Dan Brooks believes that a new, five-year contract should provide B.C. teachers for an average, annual salary increase of 1.5 per cent – pro-rated over a four-year period. Teachers would not be eligible for the government’s Economic Stability Dividend.
# 3 – The province should provide the teachers with a $2,500 signing bonus, payable in two equal installments.
A signing bonus might have been unnecessary if Premier Christy Clark’s government had conducted contract negotiations with the teachers in ‘good faith’. The Supreme Court of British Columbia determined that the government did not do so.
In its recent contract discussions, the province offered a signing bonus of $1,200 per teacher – payable if a new collective agreement was reached before June 30. That deadline passed without a resolution to the dispute.
The teachers have been seeking a $5,000 signing bonus.
Dan Brooks believes that it is fair and necessary for B.C.’s public school teachers to receive a signing bonus when a new contract is ratified.
That is because of the refusal of the Clark government to bargain in good faith; because of the government’s repeated attempts to impose unconstitutional legislation on the teachers; and because the teachers worked without a contract in 2013/14.
He proposes a compromise as follows: each teacher should receive a signing bonus of $2,500 as part of a new, five-year contract. The bonus will be payable in equal installments of $1,250 upon ratification of a new collective agreement (for 2014/15), and $1,250 on July 1, 2015 (for 2015/16).
In that manner the signing bonus will be affordable for taxpayers and fair to teachers.
# 4 – The issue of class size and composition will be addressed through the province’s Learning Improvement Fund.
The LIF’s annual budget will rise in equal installments, from $75 million in the current fiscal year to $150 million in 2017/18.
A key issue at the two Supreme Court trials was that of teachers’ ‘Working Conditions.’ Basically, it was about classroom size and composition.
The issue involves the number of pupils and students in each classroom, as well as the number of ‘special needs’ children in each class.
Premier Christy Clark has argued that a vast chasm exists between the government’s position and that of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. A close examination of both sides’ proposals, however, suggests that common ground easily may be achieved.
The province currently has a $75 million Learning Improvement Fund to address classroom size and composition. That amount, $75 million, not only is allocated in this year’s Budget, it also is budgeted for future years.
The teachers have asked for a $225 million ‘Annual Workload Fund’ to deal with classroom size and composition.
That sums up the difference between the two sides: the Clark government has budgeted $75 million each fiscal year; the BCTF wants $225 million annually.
Dan Brooks proposes the following compromise: The Learning Improvement Fund will remain at $75 million for the current fiscal year, and then rise to $100 million in 2015/16, and to $125 million in 2016/17.
The LIF allocation then will rise to $150 million in the final year of the new collective agreement, 2017/18.
At that point, the annual allocation for the Learning Improvement Fund either may be an issue for future contract negotiations, or it may become a regular component of provincial budgets.
# 5 – Issues relating to past grievances and future benefits will be set aside until the fifth year of the contract (2017/18).
In the interim, the issues will be separated and sent to two individual mediators to facilitate discussions between the province and the teachers.
Issues relating to past grievances – that is, those issues going back to 2002, when Christy Clark and the BC Liberals brought in their unconstitutional Bill 28 – should be set aside until the fifth year of the contract, 2017/18.
So, too, should the issues which concern future benefits – including preparation time, teachers teaching on call, professional development funding, remote recruitment and retention allowances, and new benefits.
In the interim, those two issues – past grievances and future benefits – should be separated and sent to two individual mediators to facilitate discussions between the province and the teachers.
Those discussions, certain to be contentious, should begin immediately upon the ratification of a new contract, and scheduled to conclude – at the latest – by December 31, 2015.
At that point, if agreement has not been reached by both parties, the outstanding issues will be sent to ‘best-offer, final mediation’ for a decision by March 31, 2016.
In that manner, the provincial government will have an entire fiscal year – 2016/17 – to prepare for new expenditures scheduled to commence on April 1, 2017, for the 2017/18 fiscal year.