With the announcement last week that the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association will be getting back to the bargaining table, I thought I would take the opportunity to try to provide some clarity on the key issues in this dispute. At the end of the day, both sides have valid concerns, and it seems reasonable to believe that the “correct” answer is somewhere in the middle of the two positions. With all of this in mind, here is a breakdown of the 3 key issues in this dispute:
Wages is the simplest of the issues to understand, as the teachers are seeking a wage increase of 8% over 4 years, while the Employer’s Association has offered a wage increase of 7% over 5 years (both not compounded). This issue seems to be the least divisive of the 3 main issues, and the final agreement will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the two proposals (8% over 5 years?).
2) Class Size
This is where some of the complexity begins. Teacher’s are looking for class sizes to return to 2002 levels, while the Employer’s Association has not yet offered any changes with respect to class sizes. The teacher’s proposed class size change would cost the government approximately $225 million per year in additional teaching resources. Although I can empathize with the notion that smaller class sizes would assist teachers in providing a better service, I can also understand that government have limited budgets with which to offer a variety of services to all citizens / constituents. With this in mind, BC spends about $5.3 billion per year on education for a population of about 4.6 million people ($1152 per person), while neighbor Alberta spends approximately $6.5 billion per year on education for about 4.1 million people ($1585 per person). That is nearly 50% more that Alberta is spending per citizen on education than BC. Compare these figures to the very similar total per-person spending of the two provinces (BC = $9348 per person, Alberta = $9853), and you can begin to see why teachers in BC believe that a higher budget for education is possible to pay for the additional resources necessary to reduce class sizes.
3) Class Composition
This is one that has been stated in many articles since the strike began, but is often not well explained. Class composition generally refers to the number of special needs or English Language Learner students in a classroom. Not being an expert in this area of education, I find it difficult to comment on this issue, but the notion that having fewer special needs students in a classroom would facilitate the work of the teacher seems reasonable. This is, once again, a resourcing issue, as solving this problem would require more staff (TAs, specially trained staff, etc) to assist with these students in the classrooms, and thus more money spent on the part of the BC government.
4) Everything Comes Down to Dollars and Cents
At the end of the day, these 3 key issues come down to BC increasing its spending on education. If it’s hiring more teachers, more specialists, or increasing wages, any one of these solutions requires additional money to go towards education in BC. The struggle for the Employers’ Association is that the education budget was frozen (no growth) in 2014, and there is no plan for any significant growth from the BC government in the coming 3 years. Thus the conundrum – how do you pay teachers more, and / or hire more teachers and specialists, without an increased budget?
5) Ultimately, the Students Always Lose
The unfortunate part of this whole labor dispute is that the people that the teachers and government are ultimately trying to serve, the students, will suffer the consequences of any extended dispute. Having already lost summer school due to the strike, any additional negotiation that extends into September (or beyond) will ultimately be taking away from BC students’ time in the classroom learning what they need to learn. With this in mind, I hope that this dispute can be brought to a speedy resolution, and that all educators (teachers and tutors alike) can do what they love for a full 10 months in 2014/15.