School Dispute: Just the Facts, Please

Ministry of Education and teachers’ union debate whose facts are more factual.

By Katie Hyslop, Yesterday, TheTyee.ca

Word 'facts' on a chalkboard

Grocking the talk: Tuesday the B.C. government and the BCTF attacked and counterattacked with marshaled facts to back their cases.

It’s like the British Columbia public is trapped in the ultimate he-said-she-said argument between a warring married couple — the Government of British Columbia and the BC Teachers’ Federation — and they both want you to take their side.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Education issued a series of “facts” against a series of BCTF claims, designed to undermine the teachers’ position. Shortly after, the teachers’ union responded with counter-facts against the ministry’s attack on the union’s facts. The BC Federation of Labour also came out with its take on the government’s “facts,” which you can read here.

Confused yet?

To aid you in deciphering rhetoric from truth, The Tyee is republishing both the teachers’ and the government’s side, complete with attempts from both sides to discredit the other. Make up your own mind, and feel free to debate the legitimacy of both sides in the comments section.

SPECIAL NEEDS

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: 700 fewer special needs teachers.

FACT: 2,100 additional special needs teaching assistants in B.C. classrooms.

Teachers’ response

BCTF analysis of ministry data shows that since 2001-02 there are: 2,601 fewer FTE teachers, including a loss of 752 full-time equivalency (FTE) special education teachers; 2,029 more FTE education assistants in all programs, including special education. Education assistants replacing teachers is not adequate for special needs students.

PAY

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Ninth-best paid in Canada

FACT: B.C. teachers’ salary plus benefits is fourth-best among provinces.

Teachers’ response

BCTF uses current salary figures (2011-12) for Category 5 (five years of university) and Category 6 (Master’s degree) from salary grids in teacher collective agreements across Canada. Based on this comparison:

The maximum salary for a B.C. teacher with Category 5 qualifications ranks ninth in Canada, including the provinces and territories. Based on provinces only, the rank shifts to sixth among the 10 provinces.

BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) uses outdated data and manipulates the rankings by comparing a teacher at Category 4 (only four years of university) salary with fewer qualifications, in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, to a B.C. teacher with Category 5 qualifications.

SENIORITY

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Seniority eroded under Bill 22 — Education Improvement Act.

FACT: Seniority remains key factor but qualifications also considered. Math teachers teaching math, science teachers teaching science.

Teachers’ response

Existing contracts already provide for qualifications and experience to be considered first, before seniority.

The government knows this, and is willfully distorting the criteria for hiring.

WHAT’S AFFORDABLE

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Contract demands are reasonable.

FACT: A 15 per cent wage increase at a cost of $2 billion is completely unreasonable, given the current economic reality.

Teachers’ response

The ministry is exaggerating the cost of a salary increase by five times the actual cost. Even BCPSEA estimates the cost of a 15 per cent salary increase over three years at $431 million, according to their Feb. 27, 2012 Information Sheet.

Teachers across Canada have negotiated salary increases to cover the cost of inflation. Why is it only the B.C. government that claims they cannot afford a cost of living increase for teachers?

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Wage increases are modest.

FACT: Teachers’ union demands would cost $2 billion, which would raise taxes on all B.C. families.

Teachers’ response

See previous BCTF answer.

CLASS SIZES

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: (Bill 22) Eliminated class sizes.

FACT: Class-size caps on all grades with exceptions made by principals and superintendents.

Teachers’ response

Bill 22: Removes the involvement of teachers in the organization of their classes by repealing the requirement for teacher consultation. Ensures larger classes in Grades 4 to 7 because it removes the previous requirement of teacher consent. Removes parent involvement in the organization of classes by repealing the requirement that the principal consult with parent councils about class size at the beginning of the school year. Eliminates public transparency and accountability by repealing the requirement that the superintendent provide a report to school trustees in a public meeting about class sizes in the district.

ZERO-WAGE MANDATE

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Reject net-zero wage mandate.

FACT: One hundred and thirty net-zero contracts signed. Twenty-five thousand CUPE employees signed net zero contracts.

Teachers’ response

Between November 2010 and July 2011, BC Bargaining Settlements Bulletins shows 36 municipal and federal public sector settlements in B.C. with annual wage and salary increases ranging from one per cent to three per cent for 2011, 2012, and 2013.

THE RAISE LAST TIME

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: Teachers have not been fairly compensated.

FACT: Teachers received a 16 per cent wage increase; $3,700 signing bonus for their last contract.

Teachers’ response

If B.C. teachers do not receive a salary increase for 2011–12, a Vancouver teacher at maximum salary (Cat. 5) will earn: $13,529 less than an elementary teacher in Toronto, $14,463 less than a secondary teacher in Ottawa, $21,001 less than a teacher in Edmonton.

CROWDED CLASSES

The Ministry of Education says…

BCTF Claim: 12,000 overcrowded classes.

FACT: Of 65,000 classes, fewer than 1,500 have more than 31 students. Fewer than 600 have more than 33 — most of these are band, choir and theatre.

Teachers’ response

Bill 22 removes:

The limit of three students designated with special needs per class, and the right of teachers to be consulted about classes with more than 30 students.

Class size issues need to be put into the context of class composition — the more complex the needs of students, the more difficult it is to meet the needs of all, especially when classes are over-crowded.

Ministry statistics show: 3,627 Grade 4 to 12 classes with more than 30 students in 2010-11; 12,240 classes exceeded the legislated limit of three designated special needs students in 2010-11.

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