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B.C. teachers to vote on agreement between union and provincial government

British Columbia teachers will vote this week on an agreement that could see the hiring of thousands more teachers as part of a dynamic to provide students with more individual attention.

DARRYL DYC/For The Globe and Mai

British Columbia teachers will vote this week on an agreement that could see the hiring of thousands more teachers as part of a dynamic to provide students with more individual attention.

Over the weekend, the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the B.C. Liberal government announced an agreement to engineer the restoration of contract language from a 15-year-old agreement after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling four months ago that found a move by the Liberal government to block teachers' ability to bargain class sizes to be unconstitutional.

On Sunday, BCTF president Glen Hansman declined to speculate on whether teachers will support the agreement, but said the deal meets teachers' union goals.

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Assuming the deal is passed, the BCTF president says school districts across B.C. will begin calculating their staffing needs, then hire teachers to adjust to new class limits and ratios between teachers and students.

Mr. Hansman said a lot of jobs will be available. "We're going to have a lot of people who perhaps have been sitting on on-call lists and only working part-time that are going to get full-time contracts."

"It's exciting, for sure," Mr. Hansman said, though he said it is disappointing that teachers have had to fight for so long for this reality.

Mr. Hansman said it's too soon to say how much all of this will cost, although he conceded he had publicly estimated $300-million a year.

"Come September, a new school starts with everything in place. That's when the bills start coming in and that's when the money has to be there," Mr. Hansman said.

In last month's provincial budget, Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced an extra $740-million in new education spending over three years, $548-million of it forced on the government as a direct result of the teachers' years-long court fight.

In a statement, the finance department said Sunday that the cost of the agreement will be covered within provincial finances and reflected in the next budget.

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Terry Stanway, a Grade 8 math teacher in Vancouver, said he was pleased with the agreement and would vote to support it because it would mean smaller classrooms in which students could be individually provided more attention.

"I have some regrets that this has taken so long," Mr. Stanway said Sunday in an interview, adding he was thinking of the many students who went through the system without the looming, improved status quo.

"I think a lot of [teachers] will feel like I do. We need to get this deal done."

Education Minister Mike Bernier said he was confident teachers will approve the deal, which comes weeks ahead of campaigning for the May 9 provincial election in which education is expected to be an issue.

"We spent the last few months at the table, working with the executive of the teachers' federation. They are confident we got to the best place possible. They are recommending their teachers approve it. I am hopeful that will happen."

In a statement, the B.C. education ministry noted that the Supreme Court restored nearly 1,400 clauses across 60 collective agreements. As a result, the parties had to figure out how to restore them in an education system that had changed over the past 15 years.

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Some critics have said the government deserves no credit for the deal because it was forced by the courts to deal with the issue.

"A lot has changed in 15 years," Mr. Bernier said. "It's time to move on and go forward."

But BC NDP education critic Rob Fleming noted that the government basically fought against this outcome in the courts, using tax dollars to do so.

"While this was in the courts, a generation of kids had learning resources taken away from them," he said, suggesting the government is trying to spin a court loss into some kind of victory.

Despite the agreement, the BCTF's Mr. Hansman said there are looming issues to resolve in education, including seismic upgrades, new-school construction and resources for teachers.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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