10 Years of Labour Peace With Teachers –You Bet
– by Jim Nelson
Christy Clark’s offer to negotiate a ten-year contract with teachers, although politically effective, is painfully cynical. Her feigned attempt to bury the hatchet with teachers will only exacerbate the more than a decade of damage to public education that she herself began more than twelve years ago.
The initiative is doomed before it starts. No public educator believes Ms. Clark is prepared or committed to do what it would take to repair the damage done to B.C. public schools over the past 15 years.
Teachers will respond politely, perhaps even flirt with her extended olive branch; but they will only do so to postpone the inevitable onslaught they know will face when they have to say they are not willing to kiss and make up unless Ms. Clark recognizes the need for education in B.C. to catch up.
The Premier knows that the pre-requisite for labour peace with teachers is a major attitude and funding change; an increased budget commitment to public schools and educators.
She also knows that teachers would be silly to accept a ten-year contract agreement scant months before Ms. Clark will likely be un-elected.
She will wax poetic about forgetting past acrimony for the sake of our children. She will say she is willing to forgive and forget. She’ll strive to reason with an intransigent B.C.T.F. for the sake of our children, who she’ll site as the ones who suffer most from the broken bargaining system.
But she won’t offer additional funding or salary catchup. She won’t even offer cost of living salary increases. Instead, she will again suggest more stakeholder input, school choice, testing, and anti – bully programmes- but no funding or salary.
And that’s been her plan from the beginning. Even before she made the emotional appeal for ten-year labour peace in the schools. She knew exactly how this would go.
The Premier doesn’t want peace with teachers, she wants to profess her willingness to bury the hatchet and then when rebuffed, bemoan how our children will suffer despite her best efforts, while on cue, C.K.N.W. talk show hosts and glib bloggers jump on board to vilify the radical B.C.T.F.
She’s after political allies in an ongoing fight, not labour peace.
If she actually wanted labour peace, Ms. Clark would talk with teachers face to face first, not make pleas for conciliation through the media. She’d consult teachers about the running of public schools. Instead, she tells them what they’ll do, and eschews their counsel.
Beyond not wanting peace with teachers, Ms. Clark also doesn’t need peace with teachers. It’s cheaper and easier to double down on simultaneously cheerleading and disdaining public education. Her “gee I tried” strategy, is predictable and
Attacking the B.C.T.F while supporting “real” teachers is easy. It doesn’t cost any money, and on the heels of some horrendous bargaining strategies by teachers the last time, the public is eager for Ms.Clark to hit ‘em again. She won’t disappoint.
When teachers are hesitant to discuss her ten-year terms and they cite a 15 year deterioration in school funding and salary, Ms. Clark will graciously but firmly repeat her mantra that per pupil funding has increased every year, even though student enrollment is dropping, a sound bite that everyone can by now recite.
But the public won’t stay engaged past the repeating of this misleading old saw long enough to understand that small annual per pupil increases are more than eaten up inflation; by fixed costs which go up despite enrollments; things like lighting and heating buildings and carbon offsets. They won’t hear that the downloading of costs from government to local districts is a staggering increased expense – costs for learning disabled students, early childhood education, ESL, and countless other programmes, increasingly funded out of the per pupil funding. And they won’t know about the biggest download of all. The first action of Christy Clark as Education Minister was to effectively cut education funding by 5% across the board, by legislating districts to pay the final two years of a three-year teacher contract she legislated on teachers and school districts in 2001.
And that’s how an oft-touted small increase in per pupil funding is actually a significant budget cut year after year.
Premier Clark is searching for initiatives that make her appear empathetic but tough; rhetorical positions she can take and not worry that they might translate into any required action or cost any money.
Ms. Clark knows her opposition to the Enbridge pipeline makes her seem a champion for B.C., and she knows it won’t cost anything and probably won’t matter – she’ll likely lose the election anyway and besides Stephen Harper has already made the decision to go ahead with the project.
Her peace in education gambit is the same as her Enbridge strategy. It won’t happen, but it will help her appear conciliatory, outside the box, and tough.
Both her Enbridge pipeline stance and her education labour peace initiative are merely inexpensive political stunts to help her rebuild a tarnished image.
The N.D.P. were no friends of the teachers in the nineties with their legislated zero percent contracts and eroding of public education funding.
But what’s different this time with the Liberal government is how long the abuse of public education has been going on and the terrible effect it’s having on our public schools.
And what’s most frightening about Ms. Clark’s ten-year labour peace in education initiative is its transparent and monumental cynicism.
Jim Nelson is a retired school Principal and educator from Coquitlam School District #43.
His blog is at “Schools, Politics, and other Stuff”