NDTA protests Kootenay Lake School Board 'celebration' meeting
The two sides in the BC Teachers’ dispute have been sitting under a Maxwell-Smart-like “Cone of Silence” for the past two weeks hoping a lack of public rhetoric or media mudslinging would put an end to the strike/lockout that has shut down public schools in the province since June.
Wednesday, at the foot of Hall Street, that silence was shattered locally as approximately 50 Nelson and District Teachers staged a rally to protest the annual “welcome to the new school year celebration” by Kootenay Lake School District administration being held in the Prestige Inn Lakeside Resort.
“We find it quite disrespectful, really,” former NDTA president Tom Newell told The Nelson Daily from the corner of Lakeside Drive and Hall Street.
“We would have like to see the board cancel this meeting because the teacher aren’t working . . .. Were on strike,” Newell added.
“And that kind of support from them, saying until we get our teachers back working, we’re not doing this meeting and planning . . .. We don’t even know if school is going forward (in September).”
Newell said teachers would have liked the board to show some leadership by, first cancelling the meeting, and second, if the meeting were to be held schedule the gathering at the board office instead of wasting money booking a meeting room at the posh waterfront hotel.
“They all say in they’re meetings, we don’t have enough money,” Newell said. “Buildings are crumbling. We’re a $100 Million underfunded on buildings alone, and they go ahead and have a meeting like this without supporting us.”
However, Kootenay Lake School Board Chairperson, Rebecca Huscroft said the meeting was open to the NDTA and CUPE support workers, who declined to attend.
“We hold this meeting every year, whether strike or not, as a celebration to kick off the year,” Huscroft, who was unable to attend due to work commitments, said from Creston.
“It was a free choice whether union members attend or not.”
After spending most of the summer waiting for the other side to blink first, the BC Teachers Federation and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the bargaining agent for the government, returned to the negotiating table.
However, The Province newspaper reports the two sides have not held face-to-face meetings since August 8.
Veteran mediator Vince Ready joined the foray, meeting with the parties on August 13, fueling optimism a deal could be reached to open school on time for September 2.
“The fact that Vince Ready agreed to stay in the process is reason for some optimism,” Newell said.
“(Ready) in speaking with both parties maybe thinks there is hope to move forward.”
“Frankly a lot of us thought he would say there is no hope and walk away,” Newell added.
“Not walking away leaves a little bit of room for hope the parties can start talking in real terms.”
The government seems intent on playing the waiting game with the BCTF.
Earlier this summer the finance minister proposed a subsidy of $40 for every day the strike affects the school year for parents with children under the age of 13 years.
The money would theoretically go toward the cost of tutors or day care.
The government estimated that some 300,000 students would be eligible for the subsidy, which would be paid out of the $12 million per day that the government would save from not paying the salaries of striking teachers.
The government then quietly announced a “parent information” website parents and students can use in September if a deal is not done.
Suggestions on the website include kids taking first aid or food-safe courses to replace in-class learning.
The Kootenay Lake board holding a “celebration” meeting is just another sharp stick poked in the eye of teachers.
“To have a meeting with trustees and people who aren’t in the classroom, and then say, “oh, we’re having this great meeting” without the people who teach the kids there, is the hypocrisy of the meeting,” Newell blasted.
Huscroft said she is holding out hope the dispute can be solved before the start of the school term.
“We thinking things will be settled and school will open in September,” Huscroft said. “Obviously both parties are far apart, but we have to believe there is still hope and we have to give the community that hope (by holding the meeting) that things are going ahead.”