Renewing relationships in B.C. education

SilasSchoolBus.JPGThe relationship between the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCSEA) and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) continues to disintegrate. Their dueling press conferences in the past couple of days has once again magnified the poor state of contract negotiations in public education in British Columbia.

Public education is the cornerstone of a healthy, productive and innovative society. The current round of negotiations is just the latest chapter in a confusing and complex history; both bargaining groups must sort it out -- soon. 

It appears they have given up on making a real effort to find common ground, and instead focused their efforts on winning a publicity battle that is detrimental to our children and their teachers.

We will not accomplish anything until both sides dial back the war of words and make an honest effort to repair their damaged relationship. Unfortunately, the more militant voices in the debate have been amplified, effectively drowning out the more reasonable ones.

Rather than devising cunning ways to apply public pressure on each other, why don’t the BCSEA and BCTF stop talking to the media, and start respectfully communicating with each other?

Both sides should be locked in the bargaining room and not allowed out until they can present a strategic plan to British Columbians that outlines the pathway to a healthy and productive relationship.

I am not talking about a long-term contract. I am talking about a commitment to a new relationship focused on what is best for students, parents and teachers, and the quality of our public education system.

Neither side in this debate should use the end of a school year as leverage. There are far too many innocent parties whose futures are negatively impacted by these regressive and unproductive negotiating ploys.

There doesn’t appear to be any commitment to find common ground, and both sides have resorted to arguing their talking points in the public. Perhaps it is time for the BCSEA and BCTF to go to counselling, because unlike an estranged couple, divorce is not an option.

In the short term, let’s introduce an independent third party to arbitrate a fair contract. For the medium and long-term, British Columbians must demand both parties find a way to mend their bitter and unproductive interactions.

Let’s focus on an arbitrated contract that will get us through the next 2-3 years, but keep the mediator around for that period and require all three parties continue meeting until they can reconcile their differences and drastically improve the quality of their negotiations.

A strong public education system is the most important investment we can make in our society, and it is not just a long-term investment; the social, economic and cultural benefits of a high quality education are evident immediately.

It is not appropriate to let this situation continue to erode; we owe it to our children, their parents and teachers to implement a process to identify the deep-rooted issues and resolve them.

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