Is it any wonder that the teacher contract negotiations have gone the way they have? I've been thinking a lot about this whole issue lately, as I am a public school teacher, it directly affects me. Like any system, I'm starting to understand its intricacies the longer I'm a part of it. Here, to my knowledge, is how it works.
There are three players in this game, the BC government (the Ministry of Education), the school districts (the employer) headed up by the school boards/trustees and superintendent, and the employees (ie teachers, EAs, and support staff). The contract negotiations that are currently ongoing are between the teachers and their employer, the school district. It seems so simple when you look at things in terms of the work that is done, the wage and benefits that are asked for, the working conditions that are required to facilitate a healthy state of education. But there is a third player in this game who is really holding all of the cards. The government. It is the government that determines the funding that school boards receive. The government has stated that funding has increased every year, while enrollment has decreased. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that funding has not kept up with inflation, has not kept up with the mandates that the government places on the schools for things like carbon offsets. Not only that, but funding was changed in 2002 from a program-and-cost based formula to a capped-student based funding formula. There is a certain cost associated with simply operating a system, regardless of enrollment. Funding has not kept up with this.
I say this not because I want to educate you, or to sway you to care about the state of the public education system in BC, though believe me, I do. I say this because learning how the system works has helped me understand why my employer acts the way they do.
The School Act, a piece of legislation that governs the way education works in BC, states that school boards must not present a deficit. Every year the government states how much funding each school district will receive, and every year the boards are required to submit a balanced operating budget to the Ministry by June 30. Boards who present a deficit risk being fired by the Ministry (don't ask me how that works, since the trustees are elected officials). This is what is currently at issue in the Cowichan Valley (news article here). So, in order to comply with the funding that the Ministry determines, school boards are often left to make whatever cuts they can, be they education support workers, teacher librarians, or school psychologists, to name a few. If you ever wonder why it can take years for a student with learning needs to be assessed and receive the support they need to be successful, look no further than the school psychologist whose hours have been cut. You may argue, well why can't it be done without a school psychologist, or without a special education teacher? If the child is not assessed in the proper way, then there is no funding for their specific need. Things need to be done by the book - we have to account for the tax payer's money. Not that the funding will only go towards their needs. Maybe a balanced budget means that schools will run more classes at over capacity so that they can hire less teachers. After all, funding is determined by the number of students. This is why schools are trying to expand their international students programs - more money in the coffers. This is why schools try to attract students from other districts - more students, more money. It's a business.
It's a business.
Should education be a for-profit business? It's a public service. Is it any wonder that we, the employer and the employee, are told to do more with less every single year. And each year, even more with even less. Is it any wonder that teachers are so enraged by the current state of education, and are unwilling to back down? Is it any wonder that the employer stands quietly by when their hands are tied by legislation?
ETA: my sources were drawn from my personal experiences, my conversations with teachers and admin, my critical reflection of the current labour dispute and various publications, including this report, which I highly recommend reading. I have not even touched on the various legislation that has broken down the state of the classroom through the removal of classroom caps, etc.