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Teachers' strike starts

Teachers carrying signs were out in force on streets and sidewalks in front of their schools in Penticton on Monday.

School District 67 Okanagan Skaha joined others throughout the province on the first day of rotating strikes.

"Today we are striking in Penticton, and whether or not we carry on depends on what happens at the bargaining table during this week," said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okangan Skaha Teachers' Union.

The strikes began Monday, and will continue May 27, 28 and 29. All school districts will be impacted on one of those days. All schools wil be open on Friday, May 30.

Woodward estimated roughly 430 teachers district wide in Penticton, Kaleden, Summerland and Naramata were out of the classroom. They were joined by CUPE support staff on the picket lines. Woodward and Glen Hansman, first vice president of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, also came out to show support.

Hansman said their number one concern relates to class size and composition, an issue they thought they had resolved back in January of 2014,

The other being salary, with teachers in BC falling significantly behind what teachers in other provinces make.

"In 2006, we were third in pay in Canada and there is now $15,000 to $18,000, between us and what Ontario teachers are paid," said Hansman. "We are not seeking parity. We are just making sure we don't fall further behind."

Hansman said he believed they were in the ball park and close on salary agreement, but remained concerned about class size.

"That seems to be the biggest sticking point as far as the province is concerned," he said.

Woodward emphasized class size was particularly important because when you have a lower amount of students in the classroom, a teacher can spend more one on one time with kids.

The more special needs kids there are also makes it very difficult to meet all the needs of all the students, she said.

A special education teacher from Penticton Secondary School said in the time she has been at the school there have been cuts to the teaching staff and the students they are getting now have higher needs.

"There are a lot more autistic students and very high needs students and nothing is changing," she said. "The support is not there from the government. They are requiring a higher level of service from year to year, and it is becoming more unrealistic for what we are able to do."

Alison Reigh, unit 67 chair for CUPE local 523, said they were out to show support for the teachers.

"We are supporting publicly funded education, with a good look at class size and class composition to provide the best learning environment for our students," she said.

Parents throughout the district were advised to look for alternative childcare on Monday.

Penticton parent Marcia Stewart was making do and said she is supportive.

"I think they are legitimate concerns, but if it continues it will definitely be a bigger problem for me and other parents, because it will start to have an impact on the education of kids here."

A rally is planned for today at 4:15 p.m. in the green space in front of Penticton Secondary School.

School District 53 Okanagan Similkameen teachers will be on strike on Wednesday.

Information on the teacher bargaining and what it means to parents and others is also available on the Province of British Columbia website.

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