VICTORIA - British Columbia's teachers say they'll be looking for signs next month that Premier Christy Clark's government is abiding by a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that fined the province $2 million.
BC Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said Tuesday members will eyeball February's budget for signs the government is committed to increased funding and prepared to hire more classroom and specialist teachers and reduce class sizes.
Iker said comments by Clark that her government is considering an appeal will be viewed by teachers and many British Columbians as clear signals the Liberals are preparing to continue their decade-long underfunding of education.
"Maybe it goes against some policy they have where they don't support smaller class sizes for students," he said.
"Where they don't support that, our students should have more access to specialist teachers, like teacher counsellors, learning-assistance teachers, special-education-resource teachers, teacher librarians, because that's what it's saying if they appeal this decision."
Clark said the government's priority is a working education system for students, and the court decision doesn't reflect that priority. She said lawyers are currently studying the complex ruling.
"Because our priority is to make sure that the education system is working for kids, we don't feel that the decision that the judge made really reflects that priority the way we think it should," Clark told Kamloops radio station CHNL.
"We and our lawyers are looking at it very carefully to really understand it. (It's a) complex decision. There seems to be a view at the moment that the likelihood is the government will appeal the decision"
Justice Susan Griffin's ruling Monday said the government didn't negotiate with the BC Teachers Federation in good faith after a court decision struck down legislation in 2011.
She ruled the government's strategy was to provoke a strike by the union in order to get support for imposing legislation on the union.
The decision means the deleted terms in the teachers' collective agreement, such as class size, have been retroactively restored and can also be the subject of future bargaining.
Iker did not estimate the cost of education changes teachers believe were restored in the court decision.
"We're hoping that when the legislature resumes, government will put the necessary funding (there) to make that happen, sooner rather than later," said Iker. "We would like to see that process begin now. We know government needs a bit of time to make that happen."
Asked if he wants to see the government changes by February's budget and legislative session, Iker said, "Absolutely."
Earlier this month, Clark said next month's budget will be balanced.
Government forecasts are February's budget is on track for a surplus of about $165 million, but Finance Minister Mike de Jong has said balancing the budget has been a difficult job, with the government holding the line on spending and making few spending promises.
Contract negotiations between the teachers and the government are currently underway.
Clark has said the government's goal is to achieve a 10-year contract that offers stability to students and families. Iker said a decade-long deal is too long, but the two sides will negotiate the length of a new contract at the bargaining table.
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