Local teachers and members of CUPE are back on the picket lines, and with only a week before the time schools are supposed to open, a deal between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) has not been reached.
This week, School District 5 sent a letter to parents noting the situation.
“While we are hopeful that the two parties, with the help of external mediator Vince Ready, will find a way to reach a negotiated settlement before schools are due to open, a decision on school opening will likely not be made until this Friday, August 29,” Lynn Hauptman, superintendent of School District 5, wrote in the letter.
Hauptman said if there is a settlement, they expect school to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 2. If there is no settlement, she wrote, many of the Southeast Kootenay schools will be behind picket lines. The BCPSEA may also reintroduce the lockout that was imposed back in June and lifted for the summer.
“If that is the scenario, a withdrawal of service due to strike action and/or a lockout will again impact our ability to provide educational services and supervise students,” Hauptman wrote. “Again we ask parents to not send their children to school.”
That a deal has not been reached has not been for want of trying on the part of the teachers, said Shelley Balfour, President of the Cranbrook and District Teachers Association.
“The teachers have been ready to bargain all summer,” Balfour said on Tuesday. “Government has been missing in action for most of July. They stepped up a little bit in August. Our president asked on Sunday ‘let’s mediate on Monday’ and we’re still waiting.”
Balfour said time is running short and teachers want to be back in the classroom next week.
“I see a deal being reached,” she said. “I’m very optimistic about next week. I would love to see a deal reached by this weekend, because then teachers would have a chance to go back into their school and get ready for their kids. That is their number one goal: to have the schools open for Monday or Tuesday.”
She said despite the optimism, she is worried it might not happen.
“We have been ready, though,” she said. “Teachers are here on their summer holidays and CUPE is here on their holidays. They’re trying to get the public to pay attention. I want the public to pay attention to the people that work with their kids, not to the government rhetoric. Stop and talk to us if you have any questions.”
She asks parents to come down and talk to the people that work with their kids, and get an idea of what it’s like in schools.
“That would be my goal,” she said. “People need to stop and think of what is actually happening here and not take the government’s word for everything.”
She is also calling on teachers to get a hold of MLA Mr. Bennett in hopes of helping to find a resolution.
Balfour said an example of what the government has been saying that’s not true is they’re ready to bargain 24/7.
“That is so far from the reality,” she said. “It took them three weeks to return the phone call from the summer. Behind the scenes is not what is actually happening. What they say to the public is not what’s happening. Absolutely not.”
She also noted that the $40 a day payment to parents with children 13 and younger could be used for anything, from a babysitter to buying smokes, as the criteria for its use is not strict.
Balfour said one student from Mount Baker came up with a figure that the payments would amount $32,000 a day in Cranbrook.