Minister of Education
On the Occasion of His Visit to Our School.
We have chosen as a teaching staff to address our concerns to you in the form of a letter. We do not want a question and answer session to be portrayed in the media as Minister Abbott listening to the concerns of “real teachers”. Real teachers – our elected representatives, that is, the BCTF Bargaining team – have been in negotiations with our employer (which is, in essence, your government) for over a year now.
They have shown great flexibility in negotiations by tabling various amendments to our initial positions. Our employer has offered nothing – no improvements for class size and composition, and not even a cost of living salary increase, which our own Surrey School Trustees recently awarded themselves. Our employer has asked us to give up our seniority rights, give up our ability to choose professional development to suit our individual needs as reflective teachers, and allow them to fire us after one less‐than‐satisfactory evaluation. If you think that “real teachers” think this is reasonable, you are very out of touch with the teachers of this province.
There are 41,000 teachers in this province. While 100% of teachers will not agree with 100% of our union’s actions 100% of the time you can be assured that our union’s positions represent the broad consensus of BC’s teachers. Your failure to engage in meaningful negotiations, your failure to compromise, and your imposition of punitive legislation through Bill 22 is a profound insult to all BC teachers. You put our public education system at great risk through the disrespect that you show towards the province’s teachers.
We believe Bill 22 is the ultimate example of the disrespect that your government has shown towards our profession. While it is called the Education Improvement Act, it actually weakens your government’s own class size and composition legislation. While it claims to address Justice Griffin’s ruling on Bills 27 and 28, it simply repeals and then reinstates these bills. And while it claims to offer a mediation process, it is not a real mediation process, because its parameters include stripping employment rights from our contract. Also, the so‐called “mediator” you have appointed has no mediation or K – 12 experience, and his impartiality is questionable.
Since your government has been in office, BC’s public school teachers have witnessed a steady decline in the level of service that we have been able to offer our students. Bills 27 and 28 removed class size and composition guarantees and minimum levels of specialist teachers from our contract. At the time, we were told that this was necessary to improve the education system. Unfortunately, we have seen no improvement, only cuts: fewer learning support teachers, counselors and school psychologists. Here at Chimney Hill, we have a 60% counselor for a school of over 700 students. In many of our classes we have 5 to 8 students who require the services of a learning support teacher, but are not able to receive it because of too few teachers. Our library budget has been cut in half, and our teacher‐librarians must spend most of their time providing preparation relief time to our enrolling teachers, instead of doing collaborative planning and teaching to promote information literacy, leaving them unable to fulfill the requirements of their job description.
Education Ministry spin about “the highest funding ever” rings very hollow for teachers who have to deal with the professional anxiety they experience over not being able to do their jobs adequately because of a lack of resources. Inflation and downloaded costs eat into district budgets and the results are an impaired education for our children. BC’s K – 12 education budget continues to decline as a percentage of the provincial budget and as a percentage of our provincial GDP. These percentages are declining far faster than the small decreases in student enrollment. BC’s children, our future, are paying the price for this lack of funding. Recently, you expressed concern about students being used for political purposes, when you received some anti‐bullying letters from a grade one class.
Today, you have used students for political purposes, as a background for your photo opportunity, and in the process have disrupted their educational program. And over the past week, an unprecedented number of district maintenance staff have descended upon our school, power‐washing the school and sidewalk, cleaning windows and carpets, buffing floors, planting, laying sod, and picking up litter ‐ all in honour of your photo op. We only wish that more construction workers had been directed to our school to finish the Kindergarten addition on time, because for long periods during the fall we saw very few, if any, workers on site. The low‐bid contractor finished the job over four months late. As a result, several teachers taught their first term in an inadequate teaching space, including our music teacher, who taught up to 28 intermediate students in a 12’ by 24’ area in the computer lab.
We do have four new classrooms, but portables remain. Our one gym is insufficient to meet the curricular needs of over 700 students. Each class receives only one hour of gym time per week, half of which is shared with another class. And there are no plans to build a new school in this neighbourhood. In the past, the building of schools was coordinated with the development of neighbourhoods. Today the developers receive quick approval while our students wait, wait and wait. Teachers frequently have to add downloaded social work and health care issues to their already busy professional lives. BC’s high child poverty rate makes teaching here that much more challenging. Chimney Heights may look like a wealthy community, but almost all of these large homes house two, three or more families. There’s a lot of poverty here, much of it hidden, but its effects are evident in the students we teach – behavior issues, anger, hunger and lack of educational support at home. The majority of the students in this school do not speak English as their first language. Add into the mix students with medical, intellectual and learning challenges, and far fewer learning support teachers, and you have a class in which the teacher is hard‐pressed or even unable to meet individual needs. Not only do our special needs students have their learning impaired by these cuts, but their classmates lose out because the classroom teacher has to spend so much of her time with these frequently unsupported special needs students.
In conclusion, Mr. Abbott, teachers here at Chimney Hill, like so many teachers across BC, are frustrated, angry and insulted by the attacks your government has perpetrated on our public education system. We urge you to reconsider what your government is doing to public education. Our children, their families and our community deserve far better from you.
The Chimney Hill Elementary Teaching Staff
Surrey, BC, Canada