With relief coming to Saanich families and educators as the doors of our public schools are open again and knowledge transfer resumes, I took the opportunity in Question Period to ask a couple of unresolved questions ahead of our deeper look at the future of our public education system in British Columbia.
One of the biggest issues facing families in Saanich is the costs incurred for childcare during the labour dispute. I asked the Minister of Education if the BC NDP government is going to provide relief to Saanich families for the economic hardship they have endured, especially in light of the savings the government has had with schools closed for three weeks? Unfortunately, the the Minister of Education just deflects and answers a different question.
In my supplemental question I ask the Minister about the provincial negotiating framework and how he expects to get a different result from his predecessor using the same tools. Needless-to-say his response is not consistent with the overwhelming number stories I have been hearing recently about the state of our public education system. There is a massive disconnect between what is being said and the reality on the ground. Check it out.
LABOUR DISPUTE IN
SAANICH SCHOOL DISTRICT
This weekend many people in my riding were relieved to see the labour disruption in the Saanich schools finally resolved. While the community voiced support and even stood in solidarity with the support staff, thousands of students and their families were impacted for three weeks by the disruption. I’m concerned for the students who lost 15 days of education, the teachers and support staff whose personal budgets have taken a significant hit and the families who had to find way to take care of the children who should have been in school. I’ve heard dozens of stories highlighting the tragic consequences of this labour disruption.
At the same time, because the schools were closed for three weeks, the province saved millions of dollars. My constituents have been asking questions of me about this. During the teacher’s strike of 2014, the B.C. government of the day offered parents of each school student under the age of 13 $40 a day to help offset the cost of child care. My constituents remember that.
My question is to the Minister of Education. Is he prepared to offer families in my riding the same support for child care as his predecessor did? And how will he ensure that the savings are going to be accounted for and reallocated back into Saanich schools to directly benefit the students who have been affected?
Hon. R. Fleming:
Thank you to the member for the question. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in the House and everyone in the member’s constituency when we say that we are pleased that a deal has been reached between the union and the school district and that students today are back in the classroom where they rightfully belong.
I know that this has been a very difficult time for Saanich students and their families. The agreement that was reached, however, is a good one, and we’re pleased about that. It will help address decades of wage inequities in Saanich with neighbouring school districts. I think I want to take this opportunity to thank both parties for working together to reach a fair agreement. I’m also grateful to CUPE B.C. and CUPE national for their assistance throughout this process.
Let’s make no mistake. This agreement will give significant wage increases to positions that were underfunded for years. Educational assistants, I’m pleased to report, will be receiving a 13 percent wage increase to address those historic inequities.
My understanding is also that the union wanted clarity on how they could benefit from the provincial job evaluation process. They have been given that under the new collective agreement.
So this was all achieved under the mandate. We worked with the school district throughout the weekend — once we knew that the ratification vote had been successful — and prior, to take steps to make sure that we could reopen schools today. That’s the focus right now. Everyone is focused, in the district, on getting schools up and running and making sure that students have the supports they need in their classrooms.
Once that is done, we will be taking a closer look at the savings and all of those questions. The school district has already released information suggesting how they will adjust timetables to make up for some of the lost instruction time, and we’ll be looking forward to the district’s answers when they have looked at that issue more carefully. But thank you to the member, again, for the question.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
GOVERNMENT APPROACH TO
TEACHERS’ COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
The costs that were incurred came out of the budget over the past three weeks, and it has substantially impacted the families in my riding. In talking to business owners, they’re feeling it as well.
While this disruption to public education in my district has been resolved, it’s just one district. The B.C. Teachers Federation is still without a contract. That situation has been deteriorating since June. They’ve been bargaining for over 70 days, and recently, the mediator’s recommendations were rejected.
No doubt, our system is the envy of many jurisdictions. However, over the past three weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to speak to people from all the stakeholder groups: administrators, teachers, support staff, parent advisory committees, parents, grandparents and students. They all share a similar concern: the erosion of quality of public education.
There is stress in our classrooms. British Columbians are concerned that public education is not the priority for this government. Furthermore, my colleagues and I are deeply concerned that the negotiating mandate established by this government means we are not investing in public education as we should — like it is the cornerstone of a progressive society.
Everyone knows the B.C. Liberals’ approach to this file only led to more conflict and showed a lack of respect for teachers and our system. That shouldn’t be the bar we compare ourselves to.
My question is for the Minister of Education. His government has maintained a very similar negotiating mandate to his predecessor — a mandate that this government, when in opposition, was deeply critical of. Mr. Minister, please help us understand how your government expects this will achieve a different outcome.
Hon. R. Fleming:
I thank the member for the question, if only because it’s an opportunity to clarify some of the misconceptions that he raises.
Our mandate as government with public servants is in no way like the previous government’s. It is the most generous negotiating mandate in a generation. We have achieved success with 250,000….
Members. Members, the Minister of Education has the floor. Thank you.
Hon. R. Fleming:
So 70 percent of public servants have concluded agreements with our government.
Let me just pivot to the second part of the member’s question around education funding, because we have a record that we’re proud of that is in stark contrast to the previous government sitting across the way. We have added an additional billion dollars in operating funds to classrooms and kids and communities in British Columbia in two short years as government. I challenge the member to find a jurisdiction in Canada that has invested 17.1 percent more in the school system, as we have done here in British Columbia.
Funding for special needs students is up 23 percent in our two years as government. I know that the member was at the First Nations leadership group, and we talked about education issues. I’m proud to say that funding for Indigenous students is up 27 percent since we formed government.
And 4,000 more teaching positions, a thousand more educational assistants…. What it means in the Saanich school district is that we have the smallest class sizes that we have ever seen in Saanich school district — 18 kids, on average, in kindergarten and 20 kids in primary schools.
Small class sizes, more resources and special needs funding up 23 percent in his district…. The money that is increased in his district is millions of dollars of new investment to make sure that Saanich kids are successful in our school system.