School year could end Thursday, pending strike vote

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The last day of class for Comox Valley students could be Thursday this year, according to Comox District Teachers' Association president Steven Stanley.

"June 12th could be the last day of school in the Comox Valley, depending on the outcome of the (strike) vote," Stanley said Friday.

If teachers vote Monday and Tuesday to move to a full strike, Stanley said they could do so as early as Monday, June 16. Comox Valley teachers are already scheduled to strike Friday, June 13 as part of continuing rotating strikes around the province.

But, a vote in favour of escalating strike action doesn't necessarily mean a full walkout, cautioned Stanley, because the strike vote specifies 'up to and including a full walkout.'

"We don't have to go to a full walkout," said Stanley. "We could just increase it to two days of rotating strikes a week, something like that, and that hasn't been determined, and it will depend on what happens at the bargaining table."

BCPSEA has tabled a 7.3 per cent wage increase over six years, plus a $1,200 signing bonus if an agreement is signed by the end of the school year. Teachers dropped their wage increase proposal last week to an increase of 9.75 per cent over four years, plus cost of living adjustments each year, expected to bump the total up to 12.75 per cent. Other issues the two sides disagree on are around class size and composition. Bargaining talks have been ongoing for 16 months.

Meanwhile, some Comox Valley students joined others across the province last week in walking out of class in protest of the dispute between the Province and the BC Teachers' Federation.

Comox Valley District Parents Advisory Council chair Tonia Frawley said she hasn't heard much from concerned parents but, personally, she's worried about how the situation is affecting students.

"The only people truly losing out here are the students," she said. "I feel so bad for those students who are trying to finish out their final year. I feel bad for the high school students who are trying to get ready for provincial exams. I feel sorry for the kids who are in elementary who need extra support. I feel bad for families who have to find daycare on the days when the teachers are on their walkouts. It's just, it's all over the place."

The BC School Employers' Association has applied to the Labour Relations Board to have teachers services required for report card completion — including preparing and marking exams and submitting final grades — deemed essential, according to the Ministry of Education. A ruling is expected shortly.

Comox Valley superintendent Sherry Elwood said Friday exams will go ahead even if teachers move to a full walkout and the LRB does not rule these services essential.

"At the moment we are required to offer both the marking and supervision of exams," she said of administrative staff. "Principals, vice principals and district management will be assisting. We will have to take students from where they are in terms of marks whenever job action begins to affect course completion and advancement to the next grade."

Stanley noted the LRB's ruling last week — which upheld the lockout imposed by the BC Public School Employers' Association and the 10 per cent wage reduction — means most Comox Valley teachers will refrain from extracurricular activities.

BCPSEA has said teachers will not be restricted from "extracurricular and volunteer activities," including graduation ceremonies during the partial lockout, even if they're held on school property. But, Stanley called the idea behind the lockout "fundamentally flawed".

"They can't dock our pay and say that they're taking away work and then tell us to work anyway. If the justification for taking our pay is that we're not doing as much work, then we shouldn't do as much work.

"We're not allowed to supervise students at recess or work with students at lunch and we have to be off school property within 45 minutes of end of school time, then obviously it puts a lot of (extracurricular activities) in jeopardy," he said. "Individual teachers might make a decision to go ahead with (extracurricular activities) but the general position is that you shouldn't be doing that because you're locked out."

According to Elwood, graduation ceremonies will go forward with or without teacher assistance.

"District staff and principals and vice principals from other schools, retired principals and vice principals will assist," she said. "Extracurricular events will continue unless there is not adequate teacher supervision. In cases of cancellation, schools will try and get as much information out to parents as soon as possible."

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Support workers reach tentative deal


B.C. Kindergarten to Grade 12 support staff reached a tentative framework agreement Saturday with the Province.

According to the Ministry of Education, the five-year framework agreement covers about 34,000 support staff, most of whom are CUPE.

If ratified, the contract will extend from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2019. The framework includes provincially-funded wage increases totalling about 5.5 per cent over five years, with potential for more if B.C.'s economy exceeds annual forecasts set by the Economic Forecast Council in the last four years of the agreement.

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The deal was reached after five days of talks.


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