Open Letter: Premier Clark, Negotiate with Teachers

August 21, 2014
An Open Letter to the Premier of British Columbia

Dear Premier Clark,

I am a BC parent who is deeply concerned about public education in our province. As such, I have joined with other parents to found a group called Protect Public Education Now.

I am heartened that your government and the BCTF are in discussion, and that Mr. Fassbender has said your priority is a negotiated agreement, rather than back-to-work legislation. Many parents have lost faith in your government’s understanding of the value of public education. Making a deal with the BCTF that is fair and in the interests of BC students will be a step in the direction of restoring confidence.

There are many who wrongly believe that this dispute is primarily about what teachers are paid. Of course, you know otherwise — salaries are not at the crux of the matter. The two parties are less than 1% apart on wages. What teachers are fighting for is a fund of $225 million to correct the problems caused by the illegal removal of class size and composition limits from their contract. While the courts have ruled against the government in this matter two times already, you are persisting in appealing their decision. Therefore, the teachers have asked for adequate resources to provide specialist teachers and aides, to address the currently problematic learning conditions.

Today, over 12,000 classrooms have four or more children with special needs documented by an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Prior to 2002, there was a limit of three children with IEPs per class, and class sizes could also be adjusted downward by the administration to offset the time required by teachers to address the needs of these students. Today, teachers have reported classes in which up to 50% of the students in a given class have special needs; in such situations, educators are hard pressed to meet the needs of students with IEPs as well as the rest of their students. And these numbers don’t even account for the thousands of children with special needs who have not been formally assessed, because of cuts to the number of educational psychologists working in the BC system.

In BC, we have the second worst per student funding in Canada, and the worst ratio of educators to students. This is appalling. We have an excellent public education system, but for many years now, that quality has been maintained through the strenuous efforts of teachers, administrators and parents to compensate for chronically underfunded conditions. If BC is be a compassionate and democratic province, we need a robust public education system that meets the needs of children at all socio-economic levels, and gives them a shot at a prosperous and healthy future.

Please heed the very reasonable demands of the BCTF. You cannot argue that their requests are outside of an “affordability zone” when the province is running a fiscal surplus, and your finance minister projects fiscal surpluses for the next three years. You have offered to pay parents $40 per student, per day for childcare, should school not resume in September. At 30 children per class, this means $1,200 per classroom, per day, that you are willing to pay to have our kids stay home instead of attending school! Instead of putting taxpayers’ money towards this costly and cynical band-aid proposal, please agree now to give the teachers the resources they need to address the learning challenges of our kids.
Let the teachers and the kids get back to class, and the parents and kids start planning now for a prompt start to the school year on September 2nd – please!

Respectfully submitted,
Marlene Rodgers
Parent and Co-founder of Protect Public Education Now

cc. All BC MLAs
BC Media
BC Conference of Parent Advisory Councils
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
Patti Bacchus, Vancouver School Board Chair

Posted in Current Actions, Letters and Addresses