There is no job action this school year for teachers, but the hangover of Bill 22 legislation that produced a forced province-wide contract settlement in June remains.
The new law contains provisions that will, in theory, pay teachers additional amounts for taking on class sizes beyond previous limits. In practice, however, teachers say they plan to reject any school board policy that allows them to gain financially at the expense of students.
"We've said from the very beginning, it's about the learning conditions and our members here are rejecting the cash-for-kids scheme," said Prince George District Teachers Association Matt Pearce. "We're going to be grieving [with the union] all the classes over 30 and our remedy for those grievances is we will be asking for additional prep time so the teachers can provide a reasonable educational opportunity for the kids in their class."
The education ministry is proposing to pay teachers in Grades 4-7 an additional $2,500 for every student beyond the limit of 30 in one classroom, and an additional $312 for every student beyond 30 in a secondary school classroom. Classes in Grades 1-3 are to be no larger than 24 students, which remains unchanged, as does the limit of 22 on the number of students in a kindergarten-only class.
"The extra money per student is a violation of our [B.C. Teachers Federation] code of ethics," said Pearce. "We see it definitely is a detriment to our students to be in oversized classrooms and we are rejecting that money as an ethical decision on our part. We always have seen a relatively small number of [larger classrooms] in Prince George and I've given credit to the senior administration and the board for really keeping a close eye on class size and we hope that remains a priority to keep them low. Unfortunately, the way the regulation is written, the school board can actually save considerable money by having one class of 36 students instead of two classes of 18."
Pearce says the union will continue to push for provisions on classroom composition, which were removed from the collective agreement when Bill 22 was introduced, prompting a three-day legal strike in March. Under the previous contract, it was standard practice for teachers with more than three students with individual education plans (IEP) to receive additional instruction help from teaching assistants. Now, Pearce says, there is no such protection on class composition and nothing stopping school boards from placing teachers in classrooms with 10 or 12 IEP students.
Bill 22 also removed a requirement for school board superintendents to visit schools twice a year to report on conditions in the classroom. Pearce said the union will now attempt to do that on its own to find out for parents the true make-up of each classroom.