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Teachers or government?

For the second time in three years teachers across BC are taking part in job actions to help  support their demands for a new contract.

We have been told that the first phase of job action means that teachers will stop supervising students before and after school and during recess, but what is next?

Teachers have a plan in mind that lays out three stages of job action, but the Central Okanagan Teachers' Association claims they do not want to go past stage one.

“Really you have to understand that we are not interested in getting there. We want this settled as much as anybody,” said Susan Bauhart, President of the Central Okanagan Teachers' Association.

She says they are busy right now bombarded with questions and concerns from the community and they would like to make it clear this 'stage' of the strike is not meant to affect students or parents.

“Stage one is really meant to target and put pressure on administration only. It is not meant to cause parents any grief or inconvenience. The idea is to put pressure on administration and hopefully that pressure will be communicated and will translate into some movement at the provincial bargaining table,” said Bauhart.

She could not give details on what exactly the teachers are looking for at the bargaining table or what ground may have been made, but explained it is clearly not going well.

“The only thing I can say is that, had things been going well at that bargaining table we wouldn’t be here in stage one.”

If this job action does not work the BC Teachers' Federation has authority to move into stage two, but when and if that is going to happen is very unclear.

“We do not know that yet, everything is contingent on progress at the provincial table. We are sitting waiting and watching to see what happens at the bargaining table,” explained Bauhart.

The second stage of strike action would see temporary school closures.

“Stage two involves rotating strikes and what that would be is a shut down of schools one day a week. I don’t know what the schedule would be, it would be rotating throughout the province,” she said. “What is absolutely certain though in terms of parents is that they would be given a minimum of two days notice.”

During the 2012 teacher job-action many parents were outraged that services like report cards, field-trips and sport team coaching were cut, something Bauhart said they recognized and adjusted this time around.

“Stage one has been adjusted from last time as teachers were very aware of the problems that were created in stage one. Stage one has now eliminated any interruptions to report cards for example, or any prearranged voluntary activities like field trips and spring concerts, they will all go ahead like usual. We really tried to address things that caused angst to students and parents so it really is business as usual.”

If negotiations fail entirely the BCTF could suggest a move into stage three. Stage three would see a complete walkout and school closures.

Bauhart said the BCTF would have to go to the membership and take a vote for that level of job action to go ahead, but she stated this is unlikely and that, that type of job action is nowhere on their radar.

“There is no talk of that right now, absolutely no talk of that at all. The teachers want this settled at the table,” Bauhart added.

During the last strike there was a lot of parents backlash and lack of support for the teachers but Bauhart explained she hasn't seen that this time around as they are fighting for proper funding for their kids.

“A huge part of the reason that all of this is going on is budget cuts. If you look at what is happening in each district including ours, this district is having to find $4M. $4M to balance their budget this year. 44 per cent of the recommendations before the trustees right now are taking dollars out of schools, direct support to children; this is a huge concern for teachers, we do not want to see that,” said Bauhart.

A point reiterated by B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker who said BC Teachers and students are falling behind the rest of the country.

He stated that the province pays $1,000 less per student than the national average for education funding.

He also explained salaries are far behind in the country with the average BC teacher making $10,000 less a year than a teacher in Winnipeg and $13,000 less than a teacher in Toronto.

The first stage of strike action has cut recess in several areas of the Okanagan and shortened school days.

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