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B.C. teachers want resources restored this school year

Representatives from the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association – the bargaining agent for B.C.’s 60 school districts – are scheduled to meet Wednesday for the first time since the Supreme Court of Canada ruling to discuss next steps: putting that victory into effect by hiring new teachers and resource staff.

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In 2002, Glen Hansman was a newly minted resource teacher at Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith Elementary School in Vancouver, where he helped students who spoke English as a second language or had special needs, such as a physical or learning disability.

In January of that year, the Liberal government, fresh off a landslide 2001 election win, imposed a new contract on teachers that stripped class size and composition language and took away teachers' rights to negotiate those issues in future contracts.

Shortly after that, Mr. Hansman was laid off, becoming one of hundreds of teachers "surplussed" in the wake of the 2002 contract, which the British Columbia Teachers' Federation challenged in court and which turned Mr. Hansman into a union activist. (He kept teaching, but in a different position.)

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Now, 14 years later, Mr. Hansman is president of the BCTF as it revels in finally winning that court battle – through a Supreme Court of Canada decision in November.

Representatives from the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association – the bargaining agent for B.C.'s 60 school districts – are scheduled to meet Wednesday for the first time since the Supreme Court of Canada ruling to discuss next steps: putting that victory into effect by hiring new teachers and resource staff.

"We would like to see it in place this school year," Mr. Hansman said this week during a break at the B.C. Federation of Labour annual convention in Vancouver.

"January 28th, 2017, will be the 15th anniversary of the legislation – and to us, that seems like a reasonable date to be in the process of fully implementing the language."

In the ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the BCTF and upheld previous B.C. Supreme Court decisions that found B.C. violated the Constitution when it stripped teachers' contracts.

That means contract language related to class size and composition that was removed in 2002 is back in place. There is provincewide language on some terms and local agreements with 60 separate school districts.

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Some clauses refer to how students with special needs are to be integrated into classrooms. Others relate to student limits for shop or lab classes because of safety concerns.

The BCTF has estimated it could cost up to $300-million a year to comply with the contract terms that have now been restored.

In a second-quarter update Tuesday, B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the province expects a budget surplus of $2.2-billion for the year ending March 31, 2017, up from $1.9-billion forecast in September.

Mr. de Jong could not say how much it will cost the province to comply with the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision but noted talks are under way.

The teachers' current, six-year contract expires June 30, 2019.

Asked about the availability of teachers to fill potentially hundreds of positions around the province, Mr. Hansman noted that many teachers are currently working "on-call" and would welcome the opportunity to land a full-time job.

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"There will have to be a significant recruitment drive that will have to occur, in particular for some specialized positions," Mr. Hansman said.

"Obviously, there's a huge human resource undertaking – you don't flip a light switch and all of a sudden, those people are back."

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