Statement: Teacher Heather McDonald

Statement: Teacher Heather McDonald

Teachers, government reach tentative deal to end strike

Teachers’ strike: No word on when Shuswap schools will open.

“Cautiously optimistic” is how the president of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers’ Association described her reaction Tuesday morning to news of a tentative deal in the teachers strike.

Just a few hours earlier, about 4 a.m., veteran mediator Vince Ready emerged from an all-night bargaining session in Richmond between the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the B.C. Teachers Federation, announcing the tentative agreement.

“It’s so hard for me to say more until I get more detail,” NOSTA president Brenda O’Dell told the Observer, explaining teachers will vote on the deal Thursday and the results would be known by the end of that day.

Meanwhile, Ready said Tuesday that the parties were going to be meeting later in the day to finalize a few outstanding details, and both sides had agreed to withhold details until a final document was ready to present.

In School District #83, Superintendent of Schools Glenn Borthistle and board chair Bobbi Johnson congratulated all sides for negotiating together to get students back to school. However, they weren’t able to predict, if the deal is ratified, whether schools would open Monday, a decision which was expected to be made provincially. A statement from the school district said it hopes to update parents today (Wednesday) with a plan of what will happen if the tentative agreement is approved.

Premier Christy Clark said in Vancouver Tuesday that if the vote passes, schools will be up and running again as early as Monday. She thanked parents for their patience, saying a negotiated settlement was the only way to improve a relationship that has been dysfunctional for 30 years.

“We’ll have five years to talk about the things that really matter, and that’s children in classrooms,” Clark said, referring to the six-year term of the proposed contract, retroactive to the expiry of the earlier agreement last spring. It contains raises averaging just over one per cent per year and money to settle thousands of grievances accumulated since the province removed class size and composition from the teacher contract in 2002.

The government’s appeal of a court decision ordering the return of 2002 class size provisions will continue, Clark said.

The deal includes increased funds to hire more teachers to address class size and special needs support, she stated.

Regarding missed instructional days, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said a plan is being developed to make up missed instructional days, which could involve rescheduling Christmas holidays, spring break or adding days to the end of the school year. Every student’s education will be “kept whole,” particularly senior high school students looking ahead to post-secondary studies, he said.

Picket lines will remain in place, O’Dell said, until an agreement is ratified.

On Friday, instead of a picket line, Dr. Seuss figured prominently on Shuswap Street in Salmon Arm.

Two teachers set up a ‘read-in’ outside the School District #83 administration office, complete with children’s books as well as carpets for listeners to sit on.

Teacher Heather McDonald, who came up with the idea, said what while picketing during a strike is predictable, she wanted to have a presence in a different way.

“I thought what I’d do is something more unpredictable, and just hopefully be a voice for public education and the students and School District #83. We’re not allowed to picket here and I thought, well, a read-in and chat is an opportunity to talk with people, connect with children and read some great books… The fact that we’re in front of the school board office, that’s a statement.”

The statement, she said, is: “I believe in a fully-funded public education system and I believe it’s the right of every child.”

Clad in green running shoes, purple socks, orange shorts, an orange, red and yellow plaid jacket, a yellow shirt and a tall hat with green, yellow and white stripes, McDonald termed herself the morale co-ordinator for the strike.

“Where can I wear an outfit – it’s all about that,” she laughed, noting that students no longer comment on her unusual outfits – they expect them.

Teacher Angela Hannis accompanied her at the read-in.

“I’ve been sitting in front of construction workers all week so this is a nice change. It’s nice to talk to people again,” Hannis said, adding, “Someone said, there’s reading, and I said, ‘I’m in.’”

Two men from Edmonton who were staying in Sicamous stopped by to ask questions about the strike.

Although they posed some serious questions, they were also having fun, one of them volunteering to sit on one of the cartoon-character mats on the sidewalk and listen to a story.

McDonald treated him to Go Dog Go, by P.D. Eastman.

Afterwards he provided his name, Ken Yaremchuk, admitting when asked that he used to be an NHL player.

“That was great,” he said of the story, noting with a smile that the number of words per page expanded as the story progressed.

Regarding the strike, he remarked: “I just want it to get solved, that’s all. I don’t really know who’s right and who’s wrong.”