(1) 250.472.8528
andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

Preamble

I’ve been asked by quite a few people to weigh in on the present escalation of tension between the Government of British Columbia and the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF). I have resisted the temptation to do so while negotiations were ongoing, but with their complete breakdown and the imminent threat of rotating strike action and punitive penalties against teachers, I felt it both timely and important to do so.

First off, let’s make something clear. I have always believed that teaching is perhaps the most important profession in any society. Each and every one of us has attended school and that experience has shaped who we are, what we do and how we contribute to society.

Teaching is a thoroughly rewarding yet physically and emotionally exhausting job. It takes a very special sort of person to be able to instruct a class of 20-30 young children for five hours every day. Just last week I spent the day engaging every grade from Kindergarten to grade 6 at Savory Elementary’s 4 Seasons Eco School (4EST) Program. I only had one lesson plan to deliver to the seven separate classes (from 08:45 to 2:30). I had no marking to take home, no report cards to write, no parents to interact with and no staff meetings or administrative activities. Nor did I have to take students on extracurricular activities. I was exhausted at the end of the day. And I only did that once, not day in, day out for many months.

Right now there is an impasse between the BC Government and the BC Teachers Federation. Like any troubled marriage, it is ultimately the children who are hurt in the bickering and squabbling. But unlike a family breakup, there are 558,985 public school students affected. Divorce is simply not an option.

As it stands, the BC Government through the Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) appears to be acting like a schoolyard bully. In a letter to BCTF, BCPSEA outlined punitive 5% wage cuts for all BCTF members starting Monday, May 26 and 10% wage cuts as soon as rotating strikes start. This sort of ‘bust the union’ response of the government is almost certainly going to backfire. It will be viewed as inflammatory, disrespectful and spiteful.

But at the same time, the BCTF demands for $646 million in salary and benefit increases, representing a 21.5% overall increase in four years, is widely viewed as outrageous. The public appears to be behind the teachers’ wishes to be able to negotiate class size and composition, but all semblance of sympathy is lost when wage increases are sought that are out of step with every other public sector employee group.

So how can we move forward from here? Below I provide some background and ideas that might contribute to the ongoing public debate. Obviously there is an immediate crisis that needs to be dealt with. But there is also the subsequent reparation of the damaged relationship between the BCTF and the government that needs to be addressed.

Part 1: The background

Class size and composition

In 2002, shortly after the BC Liberals came to power, two bills were introduced (Bills 27 and 28) that removed the ability of class size and composition to be negotiated under provincial bargaining. The BCTF successfully challenged these in court and in April 2011 Madam Justice Susan Griffin ruled that it was unconstitutional for teachers not to be allowed to negotiate aspects of their working conditions. In response, the government introduced a new Bill (Bill 22, The Education Improvement Act) that the BCTF once more successfully argued did not allow them to negotiate class size and composition. On January 27, 2014 “The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the province must retroactively restore class size and composition language that was removed from teachers’ contracts in 2002, and pay the B.C. Teachers Federation $2 million in damages.” This decision is presently under appeal.

Let’s take a closer look at the class size and composition data. These data are available in pdf format on the BC Ministry of Education website.

First, what is apparent from the data is that there is incredible variation across the province. For example, in 2013-2014 the average class size in grades 8-12 in the Campbell River School District (#72) was 25.9; the average class size in the Central Coast School District (#49) was 11.3. Averaged over the whole province, class sizes in kindergarten to grade three have been on the rise, where as overall class sizes in grades 8-12 have been on the decline (Figure 1). As noted below, these trends reflect BC demographics.

Class Size800

Figure 1: Average class size in BC public schools from 2007 to 2013. The year corresponds to the start of the school year so 2013 represents the 2013-2014 school year. Source: BC Ministry of Education.

As in the case for class size, class composition varies greatly from school to school and district to district. But what is very clear is that teachers are being expected to handle more and more students with special needs (Figure 2). Ministerial Order M638/95 defines the term Individual Education Plan (IEP) which “A board must ensure … is designed for a student with special needs, as soon as practical after the student is so identified by the board.” From 2007 to 2013 there has been a 57% increase in the total number of classes containing four or more students with IEPs in the province. This corresponds to a 60% increase in the number of such classes per school. In 2013-2014 a total of 16,163 classes out of a total of 68,020 classes (24%) in British Columbia public schools contained four or more students with IEPs.

Composition800

Figure 2: Average number of classes in a school with four or more students with individual education plans. The year corresponds to the start of the school year so 2013 represents the 2013-2014 school year. Source: BC Ministry of Education.

Not everyone believes that the BCTF and the province should negotiate class size and composition. The Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils recently suggested that it was “inherently discriminatory”.

Education funding

The level of funding allocated to our public education system depends on the priorities of the government. As indicated in Figure 3 below, spending on health care has remained a priority since 2000, ranging between 7 and 8% of provincial GDP. Funding for social services and education expressed as a percentage of GDP, on the other hand, has dropped over this period of time. In the case of education, one might argue that declining student enrollment has led to some of the overall decline in resource allocation.

GDP

Figure 3: BC Government spending as a percentage of GDP from fiscal year 2000-01 to 2014-15. The ‘e’ means estimated. Sources: 2014 and prior BC budgets, The BC Financial and Economic review (2013 and earlier), 2013 Fiscal reference Tables (from the Federal Department of Finance), BC Stats and Statistics Canada.

Figure 4 illustrates the population in BC from 1971-2012 and estimated from 2013-2025. In all age brackets relevant to school age children, the population has indeed dropped. But what’s important is that the minimum in the 0-4 age bracket occurred in 2005 and the minimum in the 5-9 age bracket occurred from 2007-2008. The population in both of these age brackets has started to rise, and this is reflected in the increasing class sizes for K-3 in Figure 1 above. All school age demographics are also expected to rise for at least the next decade. This further suggests that while we may have an excess of teachers being trained today, in three or four years, as the teacher demographic ages and as the number of school age children starts to increase, we will likely have teacher shortages, particularly in areas of French immersion, mathematics and science where demand exceeds supply.

BC Population800

Figure 4: BC population from 1971-2012 and projected population from 2013-2025 for four different age brackets. Blue (0 to 4); Red (5 to 9); Green (10 to 14); Orange (15-19). The solid line is recorded population and the dashed line is projected population. Source: BC Stats.

Provincial Revenue

As I mentioned above, education funding as a percentage of the provincial GDP has declined from a high of about 6.4% in 2001-2002 to an estimated low of about 5.0% in 2014-2015 (a decline of about 22%). If British Columbians deem education to be as important as I do, surely this drop needs to be rectified. The question is, where would the money come from?

Figure 5 shows both revenue and GDP growth relative to 2000-2001. Revenue to the province has not kept up with GDP growth. Over the last decade, there has been a general tendency to reduce both corporate, small business and personal income tax rates. For example, as of January 1, 2014 British Columbia has the second lowest general corporation active business income tax rates in the country at 11.0%.

revenue

Figure 5: BC GDP and Revenue since 2000-2001. The thick red line indicates revenue including federal transfer payments. The thin red line excludes federal transfer payments. Sources: 2014 and prior BC budgets, The BC Financial and Economic review (2013 and earlier), 2013 Fiscal reference Tables (from the Federal Department of Finance), BC Stats and Statistics Canada.

British Columbia on the International Scene

Every three years the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluates the performance of students internationally in three subject areas: mathematics, science and reading. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada further breaks down the Canadian results on a province-by-province basis. British Columbia consistently performs extremely well. In 2012, for example, British Columbia was the top Canadian province in reading and science and was second only to Quebec in mathematics. In fact, British Columbia students even performed better than students from the much touted education system in Finland in reading and mathematics. While Finland scored slightly ahead of BC in science, the difference was statistically insignificant.

I recognize that the PISA results only provide one metric of student achievement and hence the success of the British Columbia school system. Nevertheless it is a very positive one. It says to me that we must be doing something right in British Columbia despite what we might read about in the news. It also suggests to me that maybe we should start to celebrate our successes and dwell less on the negative arising from the dysfunctional relationship between the BC Government and the BCTF.

Part II. A way forward

In light of the above information, I’ll explore a number of ideas that we might consider in moving forward. First, there is a short-term crisis that needs to be addressed. This in turn must set the stage for a resolution of the longstanding dysfunctional relationship between the BCTF and the BC Government.

In the short term

The Liberal government set the stage for the crisis we are now facing by raising unrealistic expectations with its election campaign rhetoric about reaching a ten-year deal with teachers. Their intransigent position regarding class size and composition in the face of two BC Supreme Court decisions and their punitive actions with respect to teacher job action does little to move us forward.

Perhaps there is a compromise. Why don’t the BCTF and the BC Government both agree that the best place to negotiate class size and composition is at the local school district level? In fact, as noted in the book Worlds Apart: British Columbia Schools, Politics and Labour Relations Before and After 1972 by Thomas Fleming, the BCTF was not pleased with the 1994 Public Education Labour Relations Act which led to the formation of BCPSEA and the BCTF being appointed as the official bargainer for all teachers. Provincial data also clearly show that one size does not fill all. The class size and composition needs of Haida Gwaii School District (#50) are almost certainly different from those in the Gulf Islands (#64) or Surrey (#36) School Districts.

Perhaps both parties would also agree to binding arbitration with respect to salary and benefit negotiations. Binding arbitration forces each party to come up with their best offer. The arbitrator then chooses from one of them. One thing is certain, outlandish requests are taken off the table quickly when binding arbitration is in play.

Failing the above, one might imagine a mediated yet negotiated settlement where BCPSEA and the BCTF agree to a short term, say three to four year, contract in line with what other public sectors have received. In addition, BCPSEA could offer up substantial resources to hire new teachers to reduce the very valid class size and composition concerns of the BCTF.

While the negotiators battle out their entrenched, and what is perceived to be, ideological positions, the ones who are paying the price are the children in the classroom and the teachers who teach them. As adults, we cannot ask our children to behave one way then turn around and behave exactly the opposite ourselves. Right now it seems like both the government and the BCTF have picked up their bats and balls and left everyone else stranded on the field wondering what they can do.

In the long term

(i) It is clear that British Columbians need to take a hard look at our sources of provincial revenue and the way we spend the money that government receives. Given a decade of corporate and personal income tax cuts, perhaps its time to take a look at whether or not we have gone too far. This is an important discussion to have as it ultimately affects the availability of funds for our public education system. With increases in public school enrollment looming, it’s critical that we initiate this discussion sooner rather than later.

(ii) The BCPSEA was established in 1994. Since that time there has been a continued escalation of conflict between the BCTF and the BCPSEA. Perhaps it’s time to consider dismantling BCPSEA and instead bringing its operations directly into the Ministry of Education. This would signal that government is willing to start afresh to try and build a new relationship. After all, it is the government, and not BCPSEA, that holds the purse strings.

(iii) Perhaps its time too to reconsider the role of School Boards in our public education system. Thomas Fleming in his aforementioned book noted “…a history of extremely low voter turnout in school board elections, along with the influence of teacher associations over electoral candidates, has raised serious questions about whether boards, in fact, actually reflect the public’s educational will, or simply serve as a platform for the expression of various special interests — all insistent on greater school spending, regardless of other legitimate public demands government is obliged to consider” (page 109). He further points out that only between 5 and 10% of eligible voters turn up at school board elections not occurring at the same time as municipal elections. And he detailed a recent by-election in the Capital Regional District that brought out around only 2% of the electorate.

(iv) As we move forward there will be a teacher shortages emerging in a few years as projected enrollments increase. Rather than perpetuate the boom and bust cycle of teacher training and hiring, and rather than keeping people for many years on the teacher-on-call list, perhaps a more gradual transition to full time employment could be developed.

Teacher burnout early on in one’s career is not uncommon. A young teacher might be thrown into a new situation with multiple class preparations for a range of students with a diversity of skills and background. With no past teaching material or practices to draw upon, new teachers can quickly become overwhelmed with the workload. Senior teachers approaching retirement, on the other hand, have a wealth of experience, curriculum resources, and best practices. Perhaps it is possible to negotiate a buddy system where a retiring teach signs an agreement to retire gradually over, say, a three year period. During that time a starting teacher is paired with the retiring teacher. So while the senior teacher gently eases into retirement the new teacher gently eases into full time teaching. And the decades of experience and best practices are passed along from the senior to the junior teacher.

(v) And finally, perhaps there are innovative ways that would allow school districts to build upon best practices of shared services. Perhaps the government could play a role here and provide the province with a centralized payroll system. Does each district need to have its own payroll department? Should teachers be employed by the Ministry of Education instead of the Board? Are there opportunities for economies of scale?

I am not advocating for any of the above, but rather putting out some ideas in the hope that a discussion ensues. Building a social license for change requires uncomfortable topics and new ideas to be discussed.

The status quo between the BCTF and BCPSEA cannot continue. The politicization of our public system serves no constructive purpose. We have outstanding and dedicated teachers in the province of British Columbia.

To the BCTF and BCPSEA I say this. Pick up your bats and balls and get back to the field. You owe it to our teachers and our children.

52 Comments

  1. Andy Hill-
    September 3, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Well kids. It is September 3rd and the dysfunctional situation continues. Shame on all parties for perpetuating the “he threw sand in my eye” mentality. Vince Ready appropriately walked away from the sandbox! I am so glad my daughter just landed a full time teaching position at a private school and does not have put up with the nonsense.

  2. Tracy-
    June 30, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you so much for a really fast and thorough response!!

  3. Chris-
    June 30, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Remember its all for the kids !!

  4. Tracy-
    June 29, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Oh, it’s heavenly to read an analysis that isn’t steeped in rhetoric and mud-slinging! And with ideas on directions to move in – thank you for this!

    I have some questions regarding some of what you’ve written above:
    1) With regards to the BC’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. Are these the results for public school students only? Or do they include the results of students who go to private school?

    2) And with that drop in education funding of BC’s GDP from 6.4% in 2001-2002 to approx 5.0% in 2014-2015, do we know – proportionately speaking, how much of that funding went to private and public schools over the same period of time?

    Thanks very much,

    Tracy Lowe

    • June 30, 2014 at 12:11 am

      Hello Tracy, if you go to http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/topic.page?id=699A7E1C76EF494D9918D067921A86F1 you will see the per student funding. Most, I would imagine, get 35% of what a public school would get.

      I don’t have numbers off the top of my head but will look for them. Something like 12% of kids go to independent schools. If 88% go to public schools and 12% go to independent schools and, if, the average is that an independent school gets 40% of per student funding we can make an estimate.

      Let T be the number of kids in the school system. Let I be the number of independent school kids and P be the number of public school kids.
      Let X be the per student funding in public system.

      Then:
      1) T = P + I
      2) P = 0.88T; I = 0.12T

      Total Independent School Funding: 0.4 * X * I
      Total Public School Funding: X * P

      Total funding to system: X * T = X * P + 0.4 * X * I = X * 0.88T + X * 0.4 * 0.12 T = X * T ( 0.88 + 0.048) = 0.928 * X * T

      We can now calculate independent (Ri) and public school (Rp) funding as a percentage of overall funding.

      Ri = (0.4 * 0.12 * X * T)/0.928 * X * T = 0.052
      Rp = (0.88 * T * X) /0.928 * X * T = 0.948

      In summary then, independent schools get about 5.2% of the overall funding and public schools 94.8%.

      It is pretty clear from this calculation that independent schools are not the problem. What is the problem is that the government has chosen not to make education a priority. Decisions have been made. Those decisions favour corporate and personal income tax cuts over education funding.

      • Frank mitchell-
        July 5, 2014 at 11:53 am

        Public funding of private education IS a problem, and the main reason isn’t financial. This subsidy inevitably induces people with more resources, and more concern for their childrens’ educations, to choose private schools with their advantages (smaller class size, establishing useful networks for future life) over public schools. This means public schools lack an important source of public pressure to improve. it also means that a disproportionately important part of the public don’t push for stronger public education. (Even our premier sends her kid to private school.) Removing the subsidy would not eliminate private schools. But it would certainly strengthen public education, and the education of the vast majority.

    • June 30, 2014 at 12:15 am

      With respect to your first question, my understanding is that they are for all (independent + public) students. Since ~88% of our students are in public schools, I think its a testament to the quality of our public system.

  5. Katherine Tevaarwerk-
    June 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for your very detailed article. I agree with most of what you say, although further investigation would probably reveal that the stated opinion of the VCPAC that class size and composition is ‘inherently discriminatory’ is more the opinion of the vocal few than the quieter majority.

    As a special education teacher I feel that class composition is the number one issue in education at the moment. One of the above comments stated that all IEPs are not equal. This is true. Regardless, all students with an IEP will have goals and objectives, and the teacher is responsible for individualizing their program. Someone also has to develop the IEP, write and update the IEP, coordinate the meetings, and create progress report templates that the teachers can use for each reporting period. This is extra work for any teacher, even if the student is a self-motivated gifted learner.

    Then there are the students who receive funding. Some need very little support, but most need quite a bit, if not full time assistance. In our district, students with behaviour designations receive about the equivalent of 6 hours of EA support per week. Even the students with the greatest need don’t bring in full-time EA funding. The vast majority of the students that I work with who require one-on-one full-time support only get funding for about 20 hours per week. The rest of the money comes from the school’s general budget. In many schools, it doesn’t take long for the shortfall to become $20 000, $50 000 or even $100 000.

    I agree with one of the above comments that we need more EAs. EAs have a very important part to play in the support of the educational program, and I believe that every class could benefit from EA support. But, they are not teachers, and should not be responsible for educational programming, delivery, or assessment. They cannot take the place of a classroom teacher, and any move in that direction will only serve to harm efforts at integrating students, who need to feel that the person who is primarily responsible for teaching them is the classroom teacher.

    And that is part of the problem. We have integrated students without appropriate funding. Integration is the right thing to do, and when appropriately funded it benefits all children. But the model of integration that we currently have seems to be more a cost saving exercise, than a philosophical belief.

    As a special education teacher, I have 8 years of university education, which include a teacher training program and a Master’s Degree in special education. The breadth of knowledge that I have acquired in educational psychology, curriculum and assessment, standardized psychological assessments, identification, designation, and intervention of learning needs, and evidence-based practices cannot be replaced by an EA or a classroom teacher. Unfortunately, over the past 12 years we have lost 815 special education teachers due to budget cuts to education. This is not a number that can be accounted for by declining student numbers. In fact, we should have more special education teachers, since we are designating more students. My current role is learning support teacher (intervention in reading, writing and math), case manager for students with IEPs, gifted education teacher, and one-half day per week classroom teaching. I am pulled in too many directions and cannot effectively support all the students who require my services. It ends up being a process of triage, which should be reserved for emergency rooms, not schools.

    We (as a society) need to fully fund our students according to their needs, and not according to what we think we should pay. Our special needs students (and this includes our gifted students) all have valuable roles to play in our society, but they will not be able to reach their potential without proper support. In the long run it benefits all of us when we properly fund special education, but maybe not in the ways that the Liberal government values (ie – money.)

  6. Kathy-
    June 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Liz, how on Earth do you know the extremely private and confidential information of other students with an IEP in you son’s class? You are looking at it from the outside with information from your son and making assumptions. Information about students with special needs and their IEP is so private/confidential that it is never shared with other parents. Our classrooms are so complex!!!!! Students with special needs and their IEP (Individual Education Plans) are just one part of the picture. The more students with an IEP, the more complex the picture gets.

    I have taught a class where there have been 6 students with different IEP’s. That did not include the 3 students with severe behavior issues because they are not considered special needs students. It did not include the 4 learning assistance students because they are also not considered students with special needs. It did not include the one ESL student and it didn’t include the students who were so low in their ability when tested that they were not considered special needs students. There were 29 students in that graded 6 class with reading ability levels ranging between grade 2 to 8. I had an Education Assistant help two afternoons a week for the whole gang. The resources and reading materials for the different subjects and reading levels were inadequate. It was overwhelming. Many of the students with special needs were also students who came from families of low income and sometime I or the school provided breakfast in the morning for them. If they didn’t eat, things were wonky from the beginning. Some of the same students would come to school without having eaten the night before and had no lunches. I also found that I needed to buy school supplies for the children who couldn’t afford it and at times clothing for the children. Then there were the many, many court orders that I had to keep track of about who could or couldn’t have contact with children in my class. I was overwhelmed, depressed, and burnt out by the end of the year. This would not have happened had the government not stripped our contract where there were limits to the number of special needs children in a classroom. Now there are no limits.

    For me an IEP is stressful. I want to be a really good teacher for all of my students and I work very hard. When there are more than three I wonder and worry about how I can meet the goals in the legal documents (all of which are different) and meet the needs of the other students who are equally important. Well to be honest, it could be less than three and the reason behind the IEP (Individual Education Plan for the student with special needs) does make a difference.

    This year I have three students with IEP’s in my class. There are two other students that I believe should also have an IEP but due to the lack of funding for education there is a really long wait for testing (sometimes it can be over a year). This happens in many schools and districts in our province. While I wait for help and they wait for support and testing, they become frustrated and disrupt the learning of others. I have a great deal of experience and expertise but the information that could come from the testing and support from specialist teachers, counselors, librarians etc. is priceless and needed sooner. I also have students in my class who desperately need counseling but because of cutbacks there is only one counselor for 7 elementary schools. The counselor is in our school one and a half days a week to help all of the students from the different classes. I love my students and want them all to succeed but sometimes the lack of support from specialist teachers due cutbacks and low funding for students makes the situation seem hopeless. Up until we were locked out this year I was getting to school one hour and 45 minutes before class to make up different materials for the different students and subjects and get everything organized or the rest of the class. I was leaving the school at 6 pm and sometimes 7pm and still taking work home with me. My students, especially those with special needs are on my mind all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how I can create activities and learning experiences to help them and everyone in the class succeed.

    Pull out programs, although one would think helpful, are also stressful and often more work for the classroom teacher as the student is not always pulled out of the class at good times. As a classroom teacher you can’t always control or have input into when the student is out of the room. The student might be pulled out during a Math lesson, during a special guest presentation, during cooperative group time, or during a Language Arts Lesson and when the student comes back they may have missed something special or need extra one on one teaching from the teacher to catch them up. This year by the end of April a special education teacher at our school was burned out and went on leave and there were a series of substitutes taking students out of the room to work with one on one, or in groups. Due to the series of different substitute teachers pulling out my students, I was not able to get adequate feedback on my students’ program and progress.

    As I said in the beginning, today’s classroom is so complex and at times overwhelming. In my opinion a grade 8 class with 7 IEP’s no matter what they were, is ridiculous. I have taught grade 8 – they are an interesting bunch and I have taught classes with multiple IEP’s. Someone looking in from the outside may say it is reasonable not knowing the details of the actual IEP’s but there is a lot more going on in the class than those IEP’s.

    I am impressed Andrew with many of the things you have brought up in your post.

  7. Liz-
    June 16, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I just wanted to post a reminder that an IEP is not always indicative of a student needing an EA in the classroom or indeed receiving much in the way of different programming. My son’s grade 8 class has 7 kids with IEP’s. This sounds like a lot, but when you break it down it amounts to; two students with developmental delays (one girl has Down’s), one student who has reading difficulties (perhaps dyslexia, apparently he is very bright just struggles with decoding), one student whose English (according to my son) is very good but who came from Central Europe almost two years ago, and three gifted kids. Of those seven kids, only the two students with developmental delays have an EA. The student with reading delays has participated in a pull-out program and the other four mostly muddle along, with the three gifted kids being involved with other middle school students in a pull-out for accelerated math (with another teacher delivering this on their and her lunch hour) and periodically when the other kids are doing their intermittent special interest class the gifted kids from three years are grouped together to work on an area of interest – if this didn’t happen they’d still need the same number of staff though, so no extra money is spent on this program. Otherwise I would have thought the gifted kids would mostly be a boon to the class as the teacher says they help explain concepts and raise the level of discussion.

    So the idea that an IEP equals more staff and more resources is not necessarily the case.

  8. Jim Anderson-
    June 13, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Bravo Don S. Somebody is out there besides me that has the opinion that the public sector is not cutting the mustard. I think an efficiency study across the whole gamit of the public sector is in order. Can you just imagine the stink that would cause. My personal belief is that the number would max out at 35%, max. That way 40% of the public sector could be phased out, just like Billy Bennett did back when. Trouble is the number just starts growing again as this would affect the pay of the management team as their pay goes by staffing numbers in their charge. Even if there were layoffs, a regular event in the private sector, it would be cheaper to keep them on pogey than on staff

  9. Don S.-
    June 12, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Some excellent points here Dr. Weaver. I especially like your ideas on class size and composition being looked after at the district level. in my opinion one of biggest keys to fixing the financial problems is to deal with some of the waste at the district level as you touched on in section (v). Centralized payroll is certainly a good start however there are many shared services that should be looked at. I actually think that the government was on the right track when it forced amalgamation of some school districts in 1996. I think we could use more of this. Why do we need 4 districts within the Victoria area? Do we need 4 superintendants and assistant superintendants and administrative staff etc.? Do we need each district to have it’s own lawn tractors, plumbers, electricians etc. Surely these services could be shared. Union members of course would not like this as some would lose there somewhat cushy jobs. ( I know some of these people and believe me they are not overworked) I used to work in a plumbing wholesaler and at the end of every fiscal year the School District plumbers would be buying new toilets, sinks etc. like they were going out of style and replacing perfectly good fixtures. When I would ask why they were buying all of these things they would say they had to use up their budget or they wouldn’t get it next year. I could not fathom how any system could possibly work this way until I figured out that virtually every public sector organization works this way, Hospitals, Municipalities etc. . I believe the amount of money that is wasted in this manner is a very large figure that would certainly be more useful if directed to actual educational programs. I would love to know how much money is spent on maintaining just the schools and properties alone. The billions of dollars that the government allocates to children’s education is being taken by adults and unions with entitlement issues in my opinion.

  10. Cathy J.-
    June 10, 2014 at 12:07 am

    If we spend more money on wages how does that make education better? I am not convinced that if teachers are given a 14% raise that education will improve. The number of students with IEPs are climbing while general student populations are declining. Why? Is this also a health care issue? How can we expect every teacher to have the knowledge and skill to give students with identified special needs the guidance they require to reach their very best potential? Shouldn’t these students have specialist teachers? How do we ensure that education is delivered equally to rural and urban students? There I said it out loud.

  11. Jim Anderson-
    June 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Hello Dr. Weaver, hello Arnold. I have no idea where the autocracy statement came from doc. If you read my post, you will see that I am anti public sector and the cost that come with it through bloated salaries and glorious pensions. Politicians are included in the public sector although it is hard to them to understand the position of reducing taxes. I am 71 years old and I still love my trade that goes back to the mid 50s. I work and pay taxes that support the public sector but I will not become homeless to support them. I personally am a private sector trade union member and I believe that the “soledarity” thing is wearing thin for the prjvate sector unions and their executives. The taxpayers of BC should have a look at Ontario and see what public sector unionism is doing to that province. Arnold, some of what you say is good but it still is taking money out of my pocket. The government will only use and abuse those monies as they see fit anyway. I don’t care what government is sitting in power, the taxation gets stuck into general revenues and does not go to the specific uses it was collected for. Look at the gasoline tax.

  12. Arnold G Gill-
    June 5, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    All rhetoric aside, the basic issues are, as always, the monetary requirements within the school system and the ability of the government to pay for that school system at the requested levels. My point here is not to choose the validity of either side, but to think about where the extra funding might arise from.

    One of the very few things that I find admirable about the American political system is the mantra of “no taxation without representation”, which often translates to the requirement that many new taxes to be specified for specific purposes – a new bridge, etc. There is something that we can also learn from that. If there were to be an increase in the provincial sales tax by, say 1% (for illustrative purposes only, I have no idea how much that would generate), it could be put forth in such a manner that all funds generated by this increase would go to education (a nominal increase in pay, more teachers, better classroom composition, seismic/infrastructure upgrades, etc).

    If presented in the proper fashion, it could achieve broad public support and resolve this crisis.

    • June 5, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      Hello Arnold, I suspect that your views would be shared by many. Andrew

  13. Jim Anderson-
    June 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I would not expect to read anything much different from this on a website by Mr. Andrew Weaver, however I will put my two bits out there as not being in favour othe BCTF or its membership. If the BCTF wants to be a political party and make the laws it wants to make, get off the pot and be a political party. Stop with the chicken XXXX already. As a senior on a private sector union unindexed pension, I am finding it more and more difficult to side with anyone that is funded in the public sector. That goes for the Anrew Weavers of the world as well. If the public sector keeps making the demands on the taxpayer that they are doing, a taxpayers revolt could come about. Some of the teachers who commented in this forum stated that they are the BCTF. Let me inform you thast WE are the Government and the taxpayer that supports the government and therefore we are the bosses. Only problem with this is that most of WE don’t get it. We keep making like sheep and follow the leader. Let me give the BCTF a little help here. If you want 12 1/2 % more teachers to accomodate your smaller classes, have your membership give up the monies needed to increase your membership and put some of the overwhelming number of university graduates to work in the field they were trained in. The student enrollment goes down but the teacher population goes up. Go figure

    • June 1, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I edited out the profane language that is not acceptable on a public forum. My read of what you write above is that you want to be governed by an autocracy. Most almost certainly don’t. And teachers pay taxes just like politicians and other public sector employees. In fact, they have almost no means of reducing the income tax that they pay as they are ineligible for any employment expenses.

      At the University of Victoria, we have a defined contribution benefit plan for faculty. That is not indexed in any way and your assumption that all public sector pensions are indexed is incorrect.

      If you read my article, you would see that student enrollment is going up! that is why I suggested the buddy system. The population demographics are very clear

  14. Marc Hedges-
    May 30, 2014 at 9:54 am

    You have clearly revealed the real issues with the Neo Liberal agenda. You have illustrated the decrease of education funding and increase in tax credits to big business. Educators world wide have indicated that similar trends are happening in their countries. The issue for many governments seems to be that educated people ask too many question about governmental policies. I also agree that more local bargining between local unions and the school boards would elevate tensions and provide a less dysfunctional structure for a healthy educational system.

    Marc

  15. Allana Pryhitka-
    May 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you Dr. Weaver for the well balanced read. The funding formula changes the gov’t introduced in the last 10 years are eroding everything education. A school that houses 480 kids requires the same amount of heating, cleaning, water and electricity as it needed for 500 students. Funding formulae for a school districts’ buildings, bussing and secretarial staff are not considered in this per kid funding formula. Increased hydro and negotiated CUPE contracts should not be addressed by shorting teaching staff and student support. Funding formulae require a full forensic audit.
    I am into my 18th year of teaching senior chemistry and science and am seriously considering quitting. I dearly hope I am teaching long enough to see these suggestions entertained.

  16. Gordon Finlay-
    May 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks Andrew for your good article.

    I am confused however where you say that the teachers expectations are for 21% increase.

    To my knowledge, the BCTF has asked for a four-year teacher contract with a 10.75 per cent wage increase, plus 2.75 per cent cost of living increase, a return to the class size and composition rules last seen in 2001, and an increase in the number of specialty teachers like counsellors and teacher librarians hired in B.C. districts. The employer BCPSEA has calculated the union’s wage proposal at 15.9 per cent, assuming the national cost of living index will increase 1.5 per cent every year from 2014-2017.

    So how do you get 21%?

    • May 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Hello Gordon, thank you for the comment. I took the number directly out of the BCPSEA letter here. It was in the original post as a link too.

      In negotiations, benefits are costed in the compensation package.

  17. cam murray-
    May 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you Andrew for a very thoughtful commentary on a sad state of affairs. I taught in BC for 30+ years and am not impressed with what passes for educational thought from a succession of governments over that time. The constant wrangling over educational funding and classroom conditions has taken its toll on the profession, That our students have done so well in national and international assessments in the face of these constant hassles is testament to the strength of a generation (or two) of teachers. I wanted to be a teacher from age 13, yet today (some 60 years later) I wouldn’t encourage a young person to contemplate a teaching career. What a pity it’s come to this. I’m heartened by your very thoughtful article and by the responses to it. hopefully this dialogue will be a start of the road to mending a very broken system.

  18. Bill Black-
    May 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Actually Diane, a BC teacher’s pension is calculated on their Highest Average Salary (HAS), which based on the five years in which you received the highest full-time equivalent salary. The salary figures can be taken from anywhere in your working history while constructing to Teachers’ Pension Plan. The average does not have to be based on consecutive years of salary and does not have to be your last five years of salary. (Source: Teachers’ Pension Plan document “Thinking About Retirement”)

  19. Joe Mergens-
    May 27, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Thank you for this MLA Weaver. Just want to know your thoughts of adopting a funding model similar to Manitoba where local boards can raise a portion of the funds via local property taxes. By putting some of the taxing/funding power in the locally elected government it takes some of the power away from the provincial government. Currently, local boards are struggling to create legally required balanced budgets and can be removed (as one of the island boards was) if they refuse to do so.

    • May 28, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Hi Joe, I don’t know enough about Manitoba.Ill see what can find out when I find some time.

  20. Harp S-
    May 27, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I was hoping and praying that out of millions of British Columbians, we might have 1, just 1 person who can look at the whole big picture, make some sense of it and present it to the people! My prayer has been answered. Thank you!
    What can we do to get your plan, thoughts ideas to the forefront?

    • May 27, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      I believe that letters to the Minister are quite effective at giving the Ministry a sense of where public opinion is.

  21. Liz-
    May 27, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Thank you for you insight. One thing that doesn’t seem to be coming in many discussions is the fact that teacher in BC have been without a contract for four years now and have been receiving 0% increase during that time. If you take the percent (which most people realize that you have to ask for the sky to get something reasonable) that we are asking for or four year and add that to the four years we’ve had nothing then it may not be that extreme.

    Thanks

    • May 27, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Liz, you raise an excellent point. I agree, many will not realize that there has been no contract for four years. That is really important information to convey.

      Best wishes andrew

  22. Stephanie Hopkins-
    May 27, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Weaver, for sharing your thoughtful analysis and suggestions.

    As a relatively new teacher and activist for quality public education, I spend a lot of my time wondering whether or not our political leaders really have any idea at all what goes on daily in B.C. classrooms. I also appreciate the thoughtful and carefully worded responses to your article, and I find myself sitting here with the hope that maybe we CAN make a positive change.

    While chatting with my colleagues on the picket lines today, several times I found myself in conversations that centred around the differences between districts and the total lack of acknowledgement from our government on that point – a point which, as you have pointed out, has data associated with it.

    Minister Fassbender’s recent absurd (and incorrect) statement about class size and composition having no impact on student learning demonstrates this blatant disregard for geographical and socio-economic differences between and within our districts. Thank you for pointing that out – I sincerely hope that your voice is heard.

    I would, however, like to respond to your point regarding teacher salary. Yes, BCTF has been charged with the task of negotiating salary increase, and yes, the initial figures may be more than other bargaining units have received in the public sector, but please tell me, in what other public sector do employees have to bargain for another party besides themselves? I love my work, and I am dedicated to helping the adolescents I work with become the best they can be. I will fight for their rights, and I am happy to go to battle so that my kids might have better learning conditions.

    Why, though, am I chastised for asking for a fair increase in salary? Do I not matter as much as my amazing CUPE colleagues? Those wonderful nurses and paramedics who have cared for my family? I work long hours too. I have a university education (three degrees, actually, as many of my colleagues do). I am a professional who deserves to be treated as one. Why do I have to wait ten years (or longer if I’m working part time) to be paid as a full teacher? In what other sector does a professional with multiple university degrees have a ten year probationary pay scale? Why are my colleagues with more than ten years’ experience watching their paycheques actually shrink over the past few years?

    It’s time for a fair deal, and fair bargaining. As teachers we have put others before us, and always will. At some point, however, government is going to have to address wages in order to ensure that we continue to have highly trained teaching professionals in B.C.’s Public Schools.

    • May 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Stephanie, thank you for your comment. I agree with you that teachers are not compensated at the appropriate level. As I mentioned at the start of my article, teaching is perhaps the most important profession in any society. Teachers deserved to be supported and recognized as such.

  23. May 27, 2014 at 11:47 am

    This post includes some thought to the issues, but there is an underlying problem with the analysis and response.

    The actions of the BC Liberals (and the NDP before them) are a product of a neo-liberal attitude towards public services and education. Read Milton Friedman on vouchers to see its original form. Look to the US and Britain to see it implemented more fully than here. It is about privatizing education with limited public funding to provide minimal services to most while allowing those with the means private and semi-private options (read: charters, or public programs with school fees).

    Fleming’s take is completely off the mark. Teachers, via their union, in BC’s case, have been struggling to maintain a reasonably well funded and equitable system that was the product of the post-war deal between workers and gov’t that established a welfare state. The most progressive parts of the school system have arisen through action by teachers, students, parents and citizens to fight for equality, quality and adequate funding. Since the 1970’s, this has been eroding, just like every other component of the welfare state. The contest between the BCTF and the BC government is just one flash point in this dynamic.

    How can anyone suggest there should be “compromise” on class size & compositions when: a) teachers paid for this in earlier contracts taking zero pay increases b) the Liberals unilaterally and illegally removed it from our contracts and c) it is essential for quality schooling (just spend two minutes looking at class sizes at private schools to see what parents “want” for their children).

    VCPACs argument is flawed. Real equality means providing better conditions for students with disabilities. Without limits, they are “clustered” into classes, leading to a new type of segregation. That is exactly what is happening now in our schools.

    The “politicization” certainly does serve a purpose – protecting and enhancing a quality, equitable public system for everyone.

    For more in depth commentary on some of these topics, please see:

    On VCPAC and class composition limits: http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2012/02/confusing-differentiation-with-adverse.html

    The school “choice” agenda in BC: http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2012/01/bc-schools-decade-of-choice-decade-of.html

    BC teachers & salaries – We’ve had three years of zero since this article was written: http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2012/01/should-bc-teachers-get-salary-increase.html

    BC edplan and the “fix the teacher” mentality: http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2011/12/fix-teacher-what-about-society.html

    BC and the US system: http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2011/09/bcpsea-pushing-american-style-reform.html

    • May 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thanks for your very thorough and thoughtful response Tara. I agree with your points about class size and composition which is why I suggested that perhaps that is best done at the district rather than provincial level (this was how it used to be done).

  24. Kim Arklie-
    May 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

    As a parent of 2 special needs kids that have been through the BC school system both of which had amazing support with fantastic SEA’s I would much rather see more money go to the support staff and a revamp of that system. I know we have way more kids with IEP’s in classrooms than the teachers can handle. So IMHO it seems more logical to put the money into hiring more support staff and better and faster testing of kids that need help.Then the classroom teachers can spend more time teaching and less time assisting and keeping kids on task.

  25. Diane Cacciato-
    May 27, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Just a comment on iv. As a teacher close to retirement, I think this is a great idea with one glaring problem. Our pension is based on our last 5 years, not our best 5 years. I am not going to go part-time when it will lower my pensionable income. If this were changed, I would love to go part-time and give my extra blocks to a younger teacher lower on the seniority scale.

    • May 27, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Hello Diane, there is an easy solution to this. As you reduce your FTE from 1 to 0 say, you don’t affect your pensionable salary during the transition time. That is, your pensionable salary is calculated on the equivalent full FTE that you would have had if you hadn’t signed onto the retirement transition. Language outlining such would be in the agreement a teacher would sign.

    • Bruce Ferguson-
      May 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

      Actually, your pension is based on the average of your highest five salary years – not your last five salary years.

      Source: http://www.pensionsbc.ca/portal/page/portal/pen_corp_home/tpp_home_page/tpp_pt_near_retire/tpp_pt_nr_information/

  26. Sarah Holland-
    May 27, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Thank you for this post – it’s refreshing to see some data provided.

    I did note that you said: “Not everyone believes that the BCTF and the province should negotiate class size and composition.”, going on to say that the “Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils recently suggested that it was “inherently discriminatory”.”

    I don’t believe that’s actually what they have said – what they’ve said is that having hard limits on the number of students in a class, simply because they have an IEP, is inherently discriminatory. Other measures to address composition may not be discriminatory, and class size wasn’t considered in their analysis at all.

    They said: “Decisions based on the unique needs of each student are sound educational practice. Decisions based on group characteristics are inherently discriminatory. Belonging in a classroom is an individual right and should be supported unconditionally. The moment we fail to develop our classrooms based on the needs and rights of each student, we are failing to meet their needs and we are violating their rights.”

    • May 27, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Thanks for the clarification Sarah. I was quoting directly from the Times Colonist article. I believe that bringing down such negotiations to the district level as opposed to the provincial level would allow for, as you suggest: “Decisions based on the unique needs of each student are sound educational practice.”

  27. Ann-Marie Hunter-
    May 27, 2014 at 7:00 am

    A thoughtful, interesting assessment of the situation! Thank you. One area that concerns me is how the success of our education system is brought up to indicate that perhaps it doesn’t need to be changed. What is not being addressed us the fact that teachers are supporting the system with their blood, sweat, and tears! They are the ones who are creating its success, in spite of all the challenges of lack of support. But they’re burning out because of that! How can the government on the one hand, say that teachers are doing a wonderful job, at the same time as they ignore teachers’ expertise in knowing what would improve the system. The government continually refuses to make improvements to the system on the backs of teachers!

    • May 29, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Hello Ann-Marie, indeed that is what I was trying to indicate in my comment.

  28. Justin deVries-
    May 26, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    It’s so refreshing to have someone taking the time to think creatively and with an innovative perspective. You laid out the problems with both sides, and presented paths for thought toward resolutions. To get past these problems, I think both sides need to start thinking less dogmatically, less idealistically, and more practically. A really nice read.

  29. Kim Ondrik-
    May 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful data with soul … food for my famished teacher’s heart.

  30. Erika-
    May 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you for responding to my email. Thank you for a thoughtful and intelligent post. I appreciate that you are raising these ideas in a forum most of us individually cannot reach. There are a lot of things that can be changed. Hopefully there will be changes.

  31. Warren Walker-
    May 26, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Well said, Mr. Weaver!

    Maybe its time to reduce the Corporate Welfare Rolls by removing their subsidies and have the oil and gas industry operate sustainably and paying their fair share for resources.

    The Twentieth Century is OVER. The 21st Century will be GREEN. I don’t think the teachers and BC Government realize that.

    • Catherine Alpha-
      May 27, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Andrew, one thing you are missing – Teachers are the BCTF!!! It is bad enough that the government tries to be divisive but one would think that anyone attempting thoughtful analysis would realize that our union is not a separate entity from teachers.

      • J.A.K-
        May 29, 2014 at 2:19 am

        I totally agree with you, Catherine, that teachers are the BCTF. I am the BCTF! I don’t like the analogy that both the government and the BCTF are forgetting the children and have entrenched positions. That is only true of the government. Teachers are modeling to their students how to stand up to TYRANNY! If we make the concessions that the government wants, our students and children will lose out. I am a parent too. I want my sons to stand up for what is right. It is clear that the teachers are right and the government is oh, so wrong!