By Greg Amos
With the provincial government announcing on Tuesday, February 4th it will appeal the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision around teaching conditions in B.C. classrooms, education in the Columbia Valleys Rocky Mountain School District 6 faces no immediate changes.
But the ruling, which requires language around class size, composition, and non-enrolling teachers (such as librarians and learning assistants) to be part of contract negotiations, as it was prior to the introduction of two government bills in 2002, will begin impacting the valley in the 2014-2015 school year if the provinces appeal is unsuccessful.
My interpretation of what I read is that in the elementary school, the numbers would move down by about two in each classroom, but (class size) would be basically the same at the secondary school, said School District 6 board chair Jim Jenkinson, whos read through the 115-page ruling.
Thats not a problem for our school district; we can accommodate that. We have a couple of schools that are pretty close to full, but we would figure out a way to do it.
As School District 6 had no contract language around class composition prior to 2002, there may be no adjustment to make there at all, said Mr. Jenkinson. (Thats not the situation for many school districts around B.C., where the number of students with learning disabilities per classroom is specifically spelled out.)
Ratios of non-enrolling teachers to students are specified in School District 6 contracts, so it could be subject to change under negotiations for the next teachers contract.
The Windermere zone within School District 6 has 1,104 full-time equivalent students, down from 1,229 three years ago. In all, the school district (which extends as far south as Kimberley) has 3,005 full-time equivalent students this year, and a budget of more than $30 million.
B.C. Education minister Peter Fassbender has announced the latest ruling could potentially cost the B.C. government more than $1 billion, which he called completely unaffordable for taxpayers, and said it would create huge disruptions in our schools.
The local school board hasnt yet discussed the Supreme Court ruling, but will do so at the next school board meeting, which takes place at the board office in Invermere on Tuesday, February 11th at 7 p.m.
Whatever the Rocky Mountain School District is required to do around contract language, were going to do it, said Mr. Jenkinson. However, well need a reasonable transition period to restructure. This all depends on the outcome of the appeal.
Madam Justice Griffins findings mean that after 12 years of cutbacks, there is hope that we can now reverse those cuts and start rebuilding B.C.s public education system, said Windermere Teachers Association president Doug Murray, who has taught in the valley since 1992.
B.C. is $1,000 per student below the national
average, according to Stats Canada he said. That is the most significant number that you can go by. Theres only one province with worse funding.
Mr. Murray, who attended a B.C. Teachers
Federation representative assembly last weekend, noted how well respected Madam Justice Griffin is.
She is highly regarded; now it looks like the
government is trying to paint her with a brush that just doesnt fit her record, he said.
Asked if any of the $2 million in damages awarded to the B.C. Teachers Federation as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision will benefit students in School District 6, Mr. Murray noted the money will most likely be used to defend our next court challenge against a government hell-bent on privatizing the school systems in B.C.
Mr. Murray added the provincial governments
corporate income tax reduction from 16.5 per cent down to 10 per cent over 12 years has impacted the funding available for education.
When all that money disappears, where do they make it up? he said.
In the Rocky Mountain School District this year, the average class size for children in Kindergarten through Grade 7 are below the provincial averages; only in Grades 8 to 12 do we have larger average class sizes (23.8) than the province (23.0). The school district has 347 classes in 15 different schools.
Since 2002, more than 200 schools in B.C. have closed due to enrolment declines. In the Columbia Valley, one school closed in Radium Hot Springs, another closed in Canal Flats, and another further afield in Wasa.
Despite the changes that may be on the way, School District 6 will remain a sought-after destination for teachers, said Mr. Jenkinson.
The attraction is not just the locale; we are known as an employer of choice and an educational leader, he said. We have innovative programming, and students and families are well-served in our school district.