Teachers vote on contract, school underway Monday

86 % of 31,741 teachers who cast ballots in favour of new agreement; Schools to open Monday

B.C.’s public school teachers have ratified a hard-bargained six-year contract, ending a bitter months-long strike and allowing the start of the school year for half a million students.

Results of a provincewide vote were announced late Thursday, with 86 per cent of the 31,741 teachers who cast ballots voting in favour of the agreement.

In Cranbrook, local teachers put the tentative deal between their union and the provincial government to a vote on Thursday at the Heritage Inn.

Closed to the public, they met during the afternoon to air out any last minute concerns with the contract that could potentially be in place for the next six years.

“The meeting went well,” said Shelley Balfour, president of the Cranbrook District Teachers’ Association. “My teachers are very conscientious and had already reviewed the memorandum of agreement which we just got late in the [Wednesday] evening. The members asked a lot of good questions, there was a lot of good discussions and they’re ready to move on.”

Teachers had the option of an advance poll on Wednesday and voted in meet ins across the province on Thursday, the results of which will be tabulated by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

“I think the teachers will be excited to get back to work,” said Balfour. “We’ve been off for a long time, they’re missing their kids, they’re missing their jobs and I think that the mood in the room was very positive.”

“Next week will look like what the first week should have looked like,” continued Balfour. “Monday will be a partial day to see who’s here and who’s not, then off we go.

The president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced Thursday night that 27,275 members of the 31,741 who cast ballots, or 86 per cent, voted in favour of the agreement.

Jim Iker says the result means the strike and lockout are now over and teachers and students will be back in school on Monday.

School District 5 announced the opening schedule. Elementary schools in the Southeast Kootenay (SD5) will be in session from 9-11 a.m. Parkland Middle School and Laurie Middle School will have a staggered start; Grade 8-9 will run from 9-10 a.m and Grade 7 will run from 10-11 a.m.

At Mount Baker Secondary School, Grade 10 will start at 9-10 a.m. with Grade 11-12 going from 10 – 11 a.m.

Official terms of the new contract haven’t been made public as of yet, but Balfour is encouraged by what it contains.

“One of the biggest things in this contract, is we didn’t lose anything,” Balfour said. “There were no concessions the government took off the table at the last minute, which means what we got was a gain. We didn’t lose anything to get that.

“Overall, I’m excited. We’ve made some good gains. We have a long ways to go to get B.C. education back to where it needs to be, but this is a good start. I’m feeling positive we’ll take this step and off we go.”

The collective agreement includes a 7.25 per cent salary increase, improvements in extended health benefits and the teaching-on-call rates, as well as a $400-million education fund to hire specialist teachers.

With files from Canadian Press