To the Editor:
Having had quite a few years of experience as a trustee beginning with School District No. 86 (Creston-Kaslo) and continuing with School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake), as well as an abiding concern for public education, I have considerable interest in the current contest for trustee positions. Though educational issues are invariably complex, and not subject to black-and-white resolutions, there are some generalities that, from my perspective, readily result in setting a climate that has significant influence on the achievement of a desired objective. I would like to address one such generality.
In personal relationships, it is pretty much a truism that mutual respect, honesty, openness, predictability, integrity and meaningful communication would have a high likelihood of resulting in positive interaction among individuals. To expect that these traits would also apply to relationships at the institutional level would seem to be not unreasonable. If one can accept that premise, it would seem to follow that the negotiation of new contracts would be the time and place to be especially diligent in nurturing these modalities.
Most of us are aware that the provincial government has not provided any financial incentives that the school district negotiation body, BC Public School Employers’ Association, could offer in the negotiation process. I would have anticipated that such a situation would have made it especially important to establish a climate of trust and goodwill in the search for agreement. To my amazement, the first public information regarding the state of negotiation was not an expression of a sincere desire to achieve understanding of a difficult situation, but rather a tactic based on threat and intimidation.
That the province’s school districts, through BCPSEA, could agree to take this approach left me disappointed and puzzled. Granted, they are under a lot of pressure from a government that seems determined to erode what was a world-class public education system, but agreement to proceed with a negotiation strategy that is deliberately designed to make agreement virtually impossible begs comprehension. School districts, through their elected trustees, are intended to be the guardians of public education. To allow themselves to become apologists and apparent supporters of a ministry that has seemingly lost its interest in this institution demonstrates a loss of direction, to say the least.
I know that some trustees still believe in our public education system. I also know that many of them recognize the incredible professional effort practiced by our teachers under increasingly difficult conditions due to underfunding. That they are outvoted and then muzzled is, I know, extremely frustrating and stressful. That the trustee representatives in BCPSEA, entrusted with the negotiation of teacher contracts could be complicit in the decision to open negotiations with the statement, and here I paraphrase, “If you do not resume those duties, the Labour Relations Board has permitted you to withdraw in the negotiation process, and we will take away a portion of your salary,” and then, “We will also consider locking you out,” is disturbing.
When you vote, I would ask you to consider, is this a positive way to begin negotiation? A demonstration of “putting children first”? A way of building harmonious employee relations necessary for a healthy productive workplace? When we elect trustees do we want quasi representatives of a non-supportive ministry, or advocates for public education?