Monday January 26, 2015

Kamloops teachers won't return to business as usual

Teachers in the Kamloops-Thompson School District may have grudgingly agreed to a contract last week, but it doesn't mean all will be business as usual come the new school year.

Many teachers won't go back to the volunteering and out-of-pocket expenses they say was commonly practised to shore up an underfunded education system, according to Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Association president Jason Karpuk.

"We're talking several thousand dollars that some of these teachers spend to supplement their own classroom. (Some teachers) say they haven't been respected for what they did in the past and are not prepared to go back there," said Karpuk. "They say if it's not being funded, they guess it's not important. It's disappointing to the teacher."

Although the union says teachers have routinely paid for items for years, the school board seems unaware of the practice and has asked for explanations, according to school board chair Denise Harper.

"We're told, for example, that there's a textbook budget that is undersubscribed each year. And when I've mentioned that to some teacher, their eyebrows have shot up as if they were unaware there was a textbook budget," said Harper. "So there is some confusion or some misunderstanding. I look forward to having that clarified."

Harper said the board has not discussed options to cover gaps that may occur if teachers continue to suspend voluntary activities.

Karpuk would not disclose the percentage of Kamloops-Thompson teachers who voted to ratify the contract, which expires next June.

But, he said, they echo the feelings of the B.C. Teachers Federation, which has openly criticized the contract as ignoring teachers' frustrations over such things as special education, class size and composition and non-enrolling specialist teachers.

"A lot of them are very tired, so it gives them a chance to just know there's some certainty come the end of the summer and they've got another bit of a year to get ready to get at it again," said Karpuk.

Meanwhile, Karpuk called the government's firing of the Cowichan trustees for submitting a deficit budget "crazy."

Education Minister George Abbott announced Sunday that Surrey School District Supt. Mike McKay has been appointed as the official trustee for the Cowichan School District after the board refused to submit a balanced budget for the upcoming school year by June 30, as required by the School Act.

"It's regrettable that the Cowichan Valley board chose to put political advocacy ahead of their obligation to submit a balanced budget," said Abbott in a news release. "The responsible management of district finances to support student learning and achievement is a central responsibility of all boards of education. I have been very clear and consistent that their course of action would result in them being relieved of their duties."

Karpuk said the government is making a mistake in firing the trustees without investigating their point that the education system is underfunded.

"These are democratically-elected trustees who have ran on the promise they were going to submit the budget they felt was needed for the district and they had the integrity to follow through. And I think that rather than being fired, they should be respected for that."

Harper said she isn't surprised by the firing, although it's the first time she's heard of the firing of a board of education for not submitting a balanced budget.

She also admitted being stymied by the budgeting process herself.

"It doesn't make any sense. When they ask for a needs budget, what is a needs budget? How does one determine specifically what the needs are? So it's always been a little confusing to me."

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