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Province’s supreme court appeal doesn’t sit well local teachers, School Board

Colin Payne
By Colin Payne
February 10th, 2014

The provincial government has announced plans to file an appeal of the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision that found the government negotiated in bad faith with the province’s public school teachers – a move that doesn’t sit well with Nelson and area teachers as well as the Kootenay Lake School District 8 (SD8) Board of Trustees.

On In late January of this year BC Provincial Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled that the province’s 2002 decision to eliminate teachers’ rights to bargain on issues like class size and composition was unconstitutional and awarded the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) $2 million in damages because the law was so “fundamentally unfair.”

It too the provincial government just over a week to announce that it would be filing an appeal of Griffin’s decision.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender told the Victoria Times Colonist the government is launching the appeal because it feels the decision by Justice Griffin focused on the interests of the BCTF and “not student’s needs.”

According to the Vancouver Sun Fassbender also challenged Justice Griffin’s statement that the government bargained with the BCTF in bad faith, stating that it was “the judges interpretation.”

But Nelson and District Teachers Association (NDTA) President, Paul Boscariol, says the government should wake up and see that the legal system is sending the provincial government a message.

“They’ve been shown twice now to be wrong in their thinking,” Boscariol says, referring also to a 2011 BC Supreme Court ruling that the law violated teachers’ charter rights. “But they’re thinking they’re still right in their mind and that’s evidenced by the minister’s comments that it’s the judge’s interpretation.”

Boscariol said any efforts made by the province to address the 2011 supreme court decision against them are just “window dressing” and have had no positive impact education in SD.

Return to 2002 levels could see 35 more teachers in SD8

If the province is unsuccessful in its appeal and the supreme court ruling stands, requirements for class sizes and support staff would return to 2002 levels, a move that the provincial government says would cost taxpayers $1 billion.

But Boscariol says a return to 2002 levels would mean a lot for education in SD8.

“If we look district wide, we’re probably looking at about 35 teachers that could be brought back into the system,” he says. “That’s going to have a significant impact on kids in the classes. We have a generation of kids now in Grade 12 who have had to endure all the cuts over the years, with less supports and less funding.”

He adds that the province has spent millions of dollars in court costs fighting over the legislation and with the recent appeal it appears they are willing to spend more.

If the province is successful in its application for an appeal and a future decision were to go against the BCTF, Boscariol expects SD8 will likely be stuck with the status quo.

“Our kids locally and provincially are going to suffer underfunded and overcrowded classrooms with kids that need extra help and extra time,” he says.

In the meantime, he says bringing the issue back to court is going to make budgeting and planning difficult for the school district, which is currently working on its budget for next year.

“If the ruling comes out in the fall that upholds the current court ruling, the system is already in play and the district is planning for the status quo – how are they going to hire more teachers and reorganize schools to reflect this restored language.

“The districts are over a barrel here as far as their ability to plan goes.”

Board “left in limbo”

SD8 Board of Trustees Chair, Rebecca Huscroft agrees with Boscariol’s assessment of the challenges facing the district in the face of the province’s decision to appeal.

“It’s a waiting game,” Huscroft says. “We’re left in limbo and we’re trying to get some direction. Until we get clear and concise direction from the ministry, we can’t move forward on it.

“And it’s budget season right now. So I would hope there’s some clear direction sooner rather than later . . . It took 12 years last time. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long.”
She adds that if the current supreme court decision is upheld, which would see class sizes and staffing in SD return to 2002 levels, there needs to be support from the province to help facilitate the changes.

“ . . . I hope there would be an increase in funding to support that,” Huscroft notes. “That was 12 years ago and funding has been drastically decreased since then. To go back to how things were 12 years ago would have a significant financial impact on the district.

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