PORT HARDY—B.C.’s striking teachers are expected to vote today on a tentative settlement with the provincial government.
Mediator Vince Ready announced the agreement early Tuesday morning, after five days of talks at a Richmond hotel. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the province’s negotiators agreed to withhold details until they have a final document to present, he said.
“It’s extremely positive,” Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association president Shawn Gough said Tuesday morning. “It’s been what we’ve been waiting for. It’s sad it took 18 months to get here; this could have been done a long time ago.”
With a ratification vote of 40,000 union members expected to be held today, the province’s 60 school districts are attempting to return to regular classes next week after five weeks of full-scale strike action that began last June.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender has said a plan will be developed to make up missed instructional days, which could involve rescheduling Christmas and spring break.
“We’re pleased to hear there’s a tentative deal, and we’re cautiously optimistic it will be ratified,” School District 85 Supertintendent Scott Benwell said. “The Ministry of Education will determine the time and place when we’ll be welcoming our students and staff back to our schools. If they throw it back to the districts, we’ll handle that.”
It is unlikely classes would resume prior to next Tuesday. Though Gough did not yet have details of the tentative agreement when reached this Tuesday, as the Gazette went to press, he said the teachers had been negotiating with a clause that would permit them two working days to prepare for the start of classes.
The SD85 Board of Trustees will hold its own ratification vote Thursday, probably via in camera conference call, Benwell said.
“Pickets have to come down and we need to get CUPE workers in the buildings and the schools prepared,” SD85 Board chair Leightan Wishart said. “This is terrific news; the board is sincerely hopeful it gets ratified and we can get kids back in school early next week.”
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association was seeking a six-year agreement with wage increases of just over one per cent per year, in line with other settlements in the provincial public service. A fund to address class size and composition has been a key issue in the dispute.
With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press.