Freeze wages, hire more teachers?

As of tomorrow, teachers in British Columbia will be without a contract. The agreement they signed in 2006 is set to expire today and, as things currently stand, it looks like it might be a while before a new agreement is reached.

Both the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government appear to be digging in for a protracted battle, not just at the bargaining table but in the court of public opinion as well.

Yesterday the BCTF released the results of its strike vote, announcing that 90 per cent of members supported taking job action if negotiations with the province fail. Education Minister George Abbott also laid out his position publicly, saying the government won’t budge from its current “net zero” wage-increase policy for public sector workers.

As a result, a breakdown in negotiation seems inevitable. Neither side seems willing to back down over the wage issue, in particular.

But what if the BCTF took a slightly different tack, one that didn’t involve backing down yet also put the province in a difficult public-relations spot?

Instead of continuing to press for annual wage increases for its current members, imagine what would happen if the BCTF offered to accept a temporary salary freeze — say, for two years, or some other fixed period of time — as long as the money that would have gone to raises was instead used to hire additional teachers. This would demonstrate that teachers are putting quality of education ahead of their own financial gain and it would also be difficult for the province to reject. Of course, teachers would have to accept a personal burden as their salaries would fall behind the ever-increasing cost of living but, to be fair, that’s a reality most people  who work outside of the public sector are already facing. As a gesture to taxpayers, a move like this would help the BCTF win more public support for its stated goal of improving education funding in B.C. It could also do students a lot of good.

As School District 20 and many others like it across the province continue to deal with budget constraints by increasing the student-to-teacher ratio, it’s about time some additional teaching positions were added to the system, even if that comes at the expense of average teaching salaries for a couple of years. It’s unlikely this would result in a mass exodus of teaching excellence from B.C., even if other provinces do pay slightly better. As it stands, there are long lists of qualified teachers who would love to work within the B.C. education system.

Why not give them a chance?

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