Striking teachers Brendon Pritchard (left)

Striking teachers Brendon Pritchard (left)

Strike curtails first day of classes

Superintendent of Schools Mark Thiessen confirmed yesterday what many expected.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Thiessen confirmed yesterday what many expected ­— schools in the district are closed today and will remain that way indefinitely.

“Unfortunately, (today) will not be the first day of classes for our students,”  Thiessen said in an information bulletin for parents.

“We are all hopeful that schools will be up and running soon, but at this time, we are unsure when classes will resume.”

Thiessen said schools will remain closed for the duration of the labour dispute and asks that families not send their children to school, which was scheduled to resume today, Wednesday, June 3.

Principals and vice principals will be in schools however should parents have any questions, but they will not be able to offer supervision or instruction.

As well as there being no school, most programs will not be running in district schools such as all StrongStart programs, before and after-school daycares or use by community user groups.

Full-day daycares which lease space in schools will continue to operate if they did so during the last two weeks of June.

Parents can now register for Temporary Education Support for Parents from the BC Ministry of Finance at http://bcparentinfo.ca/parent-support-resources/.

Thiessen said parents may receive $40 for each student 12 years old and under attending B.C. public schools for each day the student is not in school as a result of the labour disruption.

Veteran mediator Vince Ready walked away from exploratory negotiations Saturday, saying the two sides were at “an impasse” and simply too far apart – particularly on wages and benefits – for mediation to be productive.

B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker said the two sides are just one per cent apart on wages.

The government offer is seven per cent over six years, while the union wants eight per cent over five.

But Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the BCTF demand is still nearly twice what other public sector unions have settled for once benefit demands are included.

The province has also taken a $1,200 signing bonus off the table, while the union still wants $5,000, which makes up a big chunk of what the government says is a $300-million gulf between the positions.

The province has offered a $75-million Learning Improvement Fund to help address special needs but the union wants more for special needs and to settle grievances.

Another challenge to a negotiated settlement remains the government’s pending appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that it violated the union’s bargaining rights in 2002 when it stripped provisions on class size and support.

Iker said the BCTF has reduced its demands by $125 million, including a cut in the size of its proposed fund to settle grievances, while the government offered no meaningful moves in return and “squandered” the chance at a deal.

He said the province wants new contract language that will “nullify” the union’s legal victories on class size and composition and circumvent any future appeal court ruling in teachers’ favour.

“B.C. teachers will not bargain away everything that the B.C. Supreme Court has already awarded us and we will not jeopardize any future court decision,” Iker said.

“The government must back off that unreasonable request and invest money in the system now.”

Fassbender again insisted the province won’t legislate the teachers back to work, saying it would keep the government and union “on the same dysfunctional treadmill” they’ve been on for 30 years.

“Negotiating a settlement requires union leaders to stand in front of their members and explain what has been achieved at the bargaining table,” he said.

“I worry the BCTF leadership is actually counting on government to legislate an end to this strike so they can avoid having a difficult conversation with their members about what is realistic and achievable.”

He had previously urged the union to agree to open schools on time this week as part of a two-week truce while mediation could continue. That possibility evaporated when Ready said he saw no route to an agreement and walked away.

– with files from Jeff Nagel

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