Marlene Rodgers: Christy Clark should heed BCTF’s very reasonable demands

Marlene Rodgers, cofounder of Protect Public Education Now, has issued this open letter to Premier Christy Clark:

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

Comments (25) Add New Comment
Ex Teacher
As an ex teacher I have been talking to many of my former employees. I left the teaching profession two years ago and opening a private office. Although my friend don't want me to say this its not 1% different in wages. Its 1 less year, $5000 signing bonus, and getting rid of Stage 1 and 2 on the pay scale. This affect around 3000-4000 teacher that are paid in the first two stages. They will instantly get a raise from 5% to 11% beyond the new raise that will come into affect once the strike is settle. This is not a small difference just getting rid of the first two stages on the pay scale and the $5000 signing bonus adds an additional $300-400 million dollars to the new pay. I believe in being honest and the government have played dirty pool but the BCTF have shown a lack of understanding and intelligence in this process. Most of my teacher friend are worried that not only they wont get a pay check that the money the lost will not be made up with the new raise, therefore the strike was pointless. It not about the kids because if it was they would have striked in September rather than put the most hurt on the kids. Many years ago I worked with Jim Iker, he was never considered a good teacher back then and now he is even worse.
Rating: -21
For heavens sake, if BCTF doesn't want to make the issue about wages, don't put it as the no 2 item on the list. No 1 being the term of the agreement.

As far as I'm concerned, just looking at the agreement, the first real issue is wages!

Class size and composition comes in at no 12. Yeah, real high on their list of demands.

Rating: -13
don l
A few things to consider. BC teachers are currently close to the bottom in pay in the country. Add to that the fact that those working in Vancouver are living in what it's often considered one of the most unaffordable cities globally and you have Vancouver trackers enjoying the lowest standard of living off any teachers in the country.

Secondly the BC govt might just get what they pay for. Currently at least 30% of some teachers work day goes into volunteer activities. The system is built on free labor from the generosity of teachers. How willing will these people be to give free work after they have been beaten down by the employer. Day goodbye to a lot of coaching field trips drama activities etc.
Rating: +26
Great letter. As a parent (and a teacher - at university) I am appalled by the disdain with which the Liberal government treats our public school system. It really does appear to represent an intentional dismantling of our society's most important institution.
Rating: +25
If we want to be like the US, a country whose education system is shoddy at best, then we will have school shootings, street violence, increased suicide rates, bullying, the list goes on. Shameful what this government is going to the public education system.
Rating: +11
The truth hurts
I am told that the government isn't even negotiating this week, the most crucial one if they really want children to be back at school on the 2nd of September.
Where are the parents screaming about that little item?

Doesn't the government realize that a ton of parents don't have the cash to pay for childcare come Sept. as well? As we all know, there will be a lot of people "gouging" parents for a whole pile more cash than $40 a day. Suppose a parent is lucky enough to find daycare for $80 a day and that is cheap for BC, now times this by 5 and then by 4 and you are paying almost $2000 a month when your child is supposed to be back at school like children in the other provinces of Canada. Now what if you have more than one kid to pay out the dough for? That is now $4000 to front.

Now add this little comment from the government website:

"The primary caregiver may receive $40 per eligible child for each day the child is not in school as a result of the labour disruption.''

Now that comment alone should send shivers down parents' backs. Note that it does not state that parents will receive the money for sure but "may'' receive. A nice way of saying "HA HA" we get to keep it all if we want to and you all get screwed.

My prediction: a ton of kids left at home on their own without any supervision or a ton of parents will not be going to work because of this situation.

What kind of a crazy government would do that to people?

Now the next item to concern us is that we have the high school kids with nothing to do. The generous government has provided a web site with "fake academic courses" with no teachers that they can get help from. What high school kid will do a course on his/ her own without some sort of help? No they will be playing video games all day long instead again frustrating to the parents who want their kids back at school. Or they will be getting into trouble on the streets and at the malls because they have nothing to do.

Then we have the high school kids looking to graduate this year. What are they supposed to do while their counterparts in other parts of Canada get ahead of them for scholarships at prestigious universities. Again angry kids and angry parents.

As for the big increase at private school, that is a joke in itself. First of all they don't have the space to accommodate the kids. Second most parents can't afford the tuition. Third
Rating: +5
Wow, I am shocked at 'Article B' in the BCTF proposal to eliminate the first two stages of the salary scale. Why is hardly anyone talking about this, as it will clearly put greater strain on funds? Doing the math on the starting salary of a teacher in the Vancouver school district (the bump from $43790 to $48172 from eliminating the first two scales, + 3.5% salary increase) translates to an immediate increase in yearly income of about $6000 (ignoring the one-time signing bonus of $5000). Consider that according to the 2012 census data, a single parent family in Vancouver earns $40 340 per year (taken to be a proxy for individual salary). Sorry, this kind of raise is hard to sympathize with. Here is a solution to this impasse: if you want that $225 million dollar fund to cover the class size and composition of classrooms which seems to be the stumbling block, eliminate the salary grid reduction demand, which would cover most of this expense. Teachers would still get a nice $5000 signing bonus, great benefits, the yearly increases in salary, while the students would be able to go back to school.
Rating: -2
Just sayin'
First off, move to Ontario or Alberta if you want higher pay and lower living expenses. People in other professions do it all the time.

Second, teachers are top percentile earners and have a benefit package that is second to none.

Third, there's an infinite amount of trained teachers waiting to enter the profession.

Forth, the BCTF is broke due to perpetual strikes, fiscal mismanagement and political activism.

The simple fact is the BCTF is on the verge of total collapse and have next to zero negotiating power. However, they're playing hardball like it's 1982. It doesn't make sense. Once the BCTF breaks themselves the old guard can be removed and newer younger less extreme voices can start a new more realistic relationship between the taxpayer, government and students.
Rating: -5
Young BC Teacher
Firstly, thank you to the author of this letter. It is indeed evident that you are passionate for a strong public education system. Thank you to those who are supporting BC teachers while in negotiations with the government, or rather BCPSEA. To those who feel that teachers should work in continually degrading conditions or to work for less and less, what is in it for you? Do you believe you will see a tax reduction? You think life will go on as if nothing has happened? Do you have job envy and anyone who you deem to have a better benefits package than you must be axed? You believe unions are the bane of society? Why? Are you not a union employee? Many franchises have some form of a union. Or is it that you hate taxes or paying for anything you believe is not your responsibility? Let me tell you...I will be paying for the many seniors and retirees as they access healthcare. Do you believe that it isn't your responsibility? Some of you suggested there is an unlimited number of teachers to replace those employed or to move to other provinces for work. Ontario is a 10 year wait to get a part time contract. Alberta is better...yes...but lets look at it another way. If all the teachers moved out of BC what is left? A daycare school system. Is that what you want? You can't ask for high quality with bargain prices. I pay $2 for a burger...I get a very unhealthy McDonald's burger. I pay $15 I get a handmade burger with fresh cut fries or a fresh salad. I strive for quality education here in BC! I don't want to have to move to Ontario just so my future children can have a quality education! If you believe quality education is wrong then move to the United States of America. They have cheap education, cheap healthcare (just don't hurt yourself), and the ability to make a business out of anything. I love my home in BC! I will not back down from what is clear to me an extortionist government willing to do anything at greater cost to the taxpayer to ruin public education for future generations of kids. This government has already ruined one generation of kids...and we can see the results that you all have painstakingly pointed out...arithmetic, literacy, arts, PE, and so on. Personally, I would love to teach without using technology that is 10 years old or older. As a taxpayer I want a fair deal between teachers and the government!
Rating: +9
Concerned Citizen
Is anyone else concerned about the quality of writing, rhetorical style or lack of self awareness shown by commentators who claim to be teachers?
Rating: +8
@Young BC Teacher: I don't think anyone wants teachers to work in declining conditions, and it is the responsibility of society to ensure the students get a good education. But I disagree with your claim of working for less and less. Show me the data or any evidence that teachers are going to make less money. I think both sides are in agreement that teachers will get a pay raise, but whether it is the massive raise the BCTF is requesting with reducing the salary grid or a more modest raise is currently in negotiation. What is the basis for deciding on a fair salary level? Education? Societal impact? Is it right that entry-level full-time teachers currently earn more than, for example, researchers with PhDs that are researching cures for cancers or other diseases?
Sorry to keep dwelling on the salary issue, but it seems to be what all this is really about. Eliminate the salary grid reduction demand, and this money now becomes available for hiring special-needs instructors and other teachers to reduce class sizes. Finally, I think everyone should be mindful that requesting more funds to education means that this money is taken from somewhere else. Taxpayers are rightfully concerned about reductions in other services (or increases in taxes) when large sums of money are being negotiated. We're all trying to get pieces of the same pie, so let's not get too greedy. Others are hungry too.
Rating: -2
no kids in school thank god
is "ex teacher" for real? If this is a real teacher, no wonder he's an ex teacher
Rating: +7
The truth (really does) hurt
I am told the teachers aren't even negotiating this week, the most crucial one if they really want children to be back in school on the second of September. Where are the parents screaming about that little item?

Yeah, it's about the students - right.

The BCFT is so confused they don't even know why they are striking. They just want a confrontation. Soon they will get their confrontation - with the parents who are tired of their bullying and constant whining. You guys have a good, fairly easy job with good pay and benefits that most working people would love to have, yet you feel you must constantly strike and create confrontations with your political bullsh*t. Leave your personal politics out of it, stop calling people names because you don't get your way, then maybe you will get some respect. Almost everyone I talk to think you guys are way out of line.
Rating: -9
Concerned Citizen: I was about to mention that myself. If the first comment in particular really is from an ex-teacher, I'm very glad he or she is no longer in a classroom.
Rating: +7
Marilyn Rombough
As a retired private sector employee I am appalled at the the Liberal Governments mismanagement of this dispute and their callous disregard for the citizens of British Columbia. Public Education of our children is a "Right" and it is the responsibility of our Provincial Government to provide it. Their treatment of our teachers, parents and children of this province will not be soon forgotten. For the sake of everyone concerned the Liberal Government needs to get out of the Media and get back to the bargaining table to work out a fair and reasonable deal with the teachers.
Rating: +2
Families First
The Families First slogan becomes more pathetic each passing day. It is already financially difficult to have children in Vancouver. How many more prospective parents will opt for a family pet instead of trying to raise and educate a child in this mess? It seems to me that all these problems would be resolved if gov´t agreed to provide AVERAGE Canadian funding to public education. Apparently, aiming for average is out of the question for Christy and Slippery Pete. Of course, politicians with kids in private schools can be completely oblivious to the chaos they are causing.
Rating: +3
Young BC Teacher

Salary is in the zone for settlement. Salary is not the issue. It is the class size and composition that is the issue here. Besides PEI is the only province that pays teachers less...and they are on a tiny island! BC is supposed to be in great economic growth again so why can't the government share the wealth they have accrued or should it all go in the pockets of the elite? I worked hard to be where I am at today. I knew that teaching was never going to make me rich in wealth but I do not want to see a profession that really should be respected be given harsh treatment by the masses because of some "benefits" teachers get. Let me be clear. Teachers are not what the government makes us out to be nor the "Private sector" that wants to get their grubby hands on the potential profit of a privatized education system. Personally if anyone is to be called greedy or not worth the tax dollars it is Christy Clark and her government that has led BC down this path of overspending on Big Business, Parties, and Mega projects.
Rating: -1
@Young BC Teacher

salary might be in the zone for settlement, but some of that money could be better served hiring additional teachers and special-needs educators. Sorry, but if I have a finite budget, that additional money for salaries has to come from somewhere. Reducing the salary grid will put tremendous strain on the budget. The school trustees association even states:

"We urge teachers to modify the increases they are seeking including their benefit requests so that the overall compensation package falls within the range that was accepted by other public sector unions."

Also, BC teacher salaries are in the middle of the pack compared to other provinces, which is the average. And compared to other countries, BC teacher's salaries are among the top. With 10 years of experience, BC teachers earn about $81 000 per year on average. Pro-rated to a full year of work, that is upwards of $95 000 in salary! I hope no teacher in this province thinks this is too low, as it is double the average salary in Vancouver. I'm not against raises that keep up with inflation, but this is not what is on the table.

It's a false dichotomy that the money either goes to teachers or in the pockets of the elite, when other important sectors such as health care also desperately need additional funding.

I am fully sympathetic to the poor treatment shown to teachers in these years of negotiations, and feel the class size and composition needs of students are important. So it is disheartening to see a rational solution that is being ignored because the second item (salary) on the list of teacher's bargaining demands is leaving less money for hiring additional staff.
Rating: +1
Since the non-issue of salary still seems to be an issue, let's remember that when anything is ranked, someone always ends up last. We tell kids in the primary grades its not about winning as long as your enjoying yourself. Perhaps we all need to practice what we preach a little more. If the difference between first & last comes down to a coffee a day, is it really worth the fight? We all know living in BC comes at a cost. A coffee a day is a small sacrifice if it means the kids you are fighting for get the class composition you want. Make that your number one priority. I'm not saying teachers do not deserve wage increases we all do. But we also can't always have our cake & eat it too.
Rating: +4
A Roche
@ Mikey. What planet are you on that you think the average teacher makes 95 000$ ??? Why don't you talk to some actual teachers?
Rating: -2


Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.