Alberni educators weigh impact of class-size court ruling

SD 70 students and teachers will soon feel the effects of a BC Supreme Court ruling that restored class size and support language in CBA's

Students and teachers in School District 70 will soon feel the effects of a BC Supreme Court ruling that has restored class size and support language to collective bargaining agreements, Alberni District Teachers’ Union president Ken Zydyk said.

Zydyk was responding to Monday’s BC Supreme Court ruling that retroactively restored class-size and support language that was stripped from collective bargaining agreements in 2002.

“It’s ironic that the ruling came down on the anniversary of when the legislation was first enacted,” Zydyk said.

The court also ordered the province to pay the BC Teachers’ Federation $2 million for its unlawfully extending the unconstitutional prohibitions on collective bargaining until June 2013.

“A student that started in kindergarten and is now in Grade 12 will have gone through the public school system in classes that were too large and with reduced supports,” Zydyk said. “We’re pleased that the ruling has restored learning conditions for them.”

The arc of events started in 2002 when the BC Liberals enacted Bill 28, which removed class size limits and class composition from collective bargaining. In 2011, a court ruling found that removing those provisions violated teachers’ constitutional rights.

Government enacted new legislation – Bill 22 – which the court found “virtually identical” to Bill 28.

The ruling also slammed the BC Liberals for playing politics with the process by attempting to provoke the BCTF into striking, then trying to gain political support for imposing subsequent legislation.

Reversing the unconstitutional legislation will have implications for teachers and their employers but the parties can negotiate the implications through collective bargaining, the ruling stated.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he is “disappointed” by the ruling, and ministry staff will study it before deciding on a possible appeal.

Fassbender said he disagrees with the judge’s conclusion that the government tried to provoke a strike, and his focus is on reaching a new agreement.

“What we need to do is to review the judge’s ruling in detail to see what the implications are, but clearly my message to school districts, to parents, is it’s business as usual in our schools,” Fassbender said.

In School District 70, Zydyk said he expects to see the ruling rolled out in short order but ‘how’ remains to be seen. “We know the judgment but we don’t know how it will be implemented or what the timeline is.”

High school science and English classes will be the biggest beneficiaries of the new ruling in School District 70.

“Under the old legislation, class sizes are more than 30 students. But with the restored class-size language we expect to see that decrease to the mid-20s,” Zydyk said.

SD70 chair Larry Ransom wasn’t available for comment.

Recognizing the court ruling is one thing but funding its impact is another, SD70 trustee Rosemarie Buchanan said. “The province is likely going to tell us to find the money in our existing budgets.”

The district is already wrestling with teacher pension increases, a spike in BC Hydro costs as well as with reduced transportation funding. “The province doesn’t recognize that without additional resources the only way to fund services is to cut services.”

With files from Tom Fletcher,

Black Press legislative writer


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