03/04/2017 13:33 EST | Updated 03/05/2018 00:12 EST

B.C. Teachers' Federation says tentative deal reached with the province

VICTORIA — The B.C. Teachers' Federation reached a tentative deal with the province that if approved would end a 15-year battle over bargaining rights.

The union issued a news release Saturday saying the two sides have agreed to restore contract language from a previous agreement that called for smaller class sizes.

The federation said it means families can expect the next school year to start with thousands more teachers and the restoration of services such as school libraries and counselling.

Union president Glen Hansman said in a phone interview that this dramatic change to class sizes is long overdue.

"It's good it's finally being addressed but let's not kid ourselves, it's only happening because the courts have told them to," he said. 

The announcement comes less than four months after a Supreme Court ruling that a law imposed by the province that blocked teachers' ability from bargaining class sizes was unconstitutional.

The decision ended a 14-year legal battle over bargaining rights that started when the province imposed legislation that blocked discussions on issues like class size in 2002.

The ruling restored language to a previous 2002 agreement, however a statement from provincial government said details needed to be negotiated because the education system has evolved and changed since then.

In January, the province announced it would provide $50 million to hire 1,100 new teachers as an interim measure while negotiations over the agreement continued.

Education Minister Mike Bernier said in a news release Saturday that the province announced record funding increases for education in the budget released last month that will build upon the investments and new hires introduced at the beginning of the year.

Bernier said negotiations were complex but the new deal is great news for students, parents and teachers.

"We already have a word-leading education system. With this agreement, we can expect even greater results for our students in the years ahead," he said. 

Hansman said while this is good news for current and future students, a generation of students were forced to endure crowded classrooms and resource shortages unnecessarily.

"It never should have happened in the first place, right? Governments shouldn't be enacting unconstitutional legislation," he said.

School districts will now need to determine how many more teachers they'll need to hire, and neither the union or ministry have commented on what the total cost will be.

At the time of the court ruling, Hansman had estimated it would cost between $250 and $300 million per year to bring in the additional resources.

Meeting new classroom size regulations in schools in Surrey, Chilliwack and southern Vancouver Island will be a challenge, Hansman said because those districts already face overcrowding and many schools rely on portables.

He said the agreement allows for additional resources to be provided to teachers instead when physical space makes adding new classes impossible.

Recruitment incentives will also have to be explored for some communities that have struggled to attract new teachers.

Despite the months of planning and preparation ahead, Hansman said he's looking forward to September.

"It's going to mean a dramatic change in our schools in a way that is going to be positive for our students and positive for our members," he said.

Union members will be voting on whether to accept the agreement next week.