After spending months on picket lines, Prince Rupert teachers entered schools on Friday to prepare for the start of the 2014/15 year.
For months negotiations between the British Columbia Teachers’ Union (BCTF) and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) were at a halt, but after a six-day marathon of bargaining sessions a tentative agreement was reached on Sept. 16.
Eighty-six per cent of the more than 31,000 teachers who voted on the deal were in favour, with the ratification of the new collective agreement ending the strike and lockout on Sept. 18.
“I think our bargaining team did a good job and worked extremely hard to get the deal we got, but it does not resolve issues that the teachers’ union had,” said Kathy Murphy, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union (PRDTU).
Over the life of the six-year agreement $400-million in education funding will be provided by the provincial government to hire classroom teachers and specialists. The government will also disburse $105 million in grievances, which the BCTF will hand out as a signing bonus.
The contract won’t restore class size and composition limits or specialist teachers ratios that were in place before 2002, but a clause nullifying BCTF court victories relating to class size and composition was dropped from the deal.
“We want more support for kids in our classrooms in Prince Rupert. That’s been a long-standing position of the PRDTU,” said Murphy.
“Teachers are questioning if anything will be different in their classrooms.”
The BCTF agreed to take a 7.25 per cent increase in salary throughout the life of the agreement, the same amount as other public sector workers. Murphy said that this doesn’t cover teachers’ cost of living, which she said has jumped 2.1 per cent this year alone.
Furthermore, the collective agreement will mean improvements in extended health benefits and the rate for teaching-on-call.
“Teachers are happy to be going back to school,” Murphy said, adding there’s still work to be done in the future.
Despite the delayed start, the school year won’t be extended. Prince Rupert School District superintendent Sandra Jones said semesters will be adjusted so they are even, with provincial exam dates being moved to correspond with the changes.
Prince Rupert classes will start on Monday, Sept. 22 with a partial day.
Grade 1 to 5 students need to be at school by 10 a.m. on Monday.
Grade 6 students will start their first day of middle school at 1 p.m., with Grade 7 and 8 classes beginning at 10:30 a.m.
At the high school, the buzzer will go at 9:45 a.m. for Grade 9 and 10 students, and at 1 p.m. for those enrolled in Grade 11 and 12.
Pacific Coast School’s first day will kick-off at 10 a.m.
Parents and guardians of children starting kindergarten will be notified of start dates and times by their schools.