VICTORIA – The B.C. government will work with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation rather than continue a court battle over control of class size and special needs support in public schools, Education Minister George Abbott said Thursday.
The government has been studying a ruling two weeks ago from the B.C. Supreme Court, which said the government infringed on teachers’ constitutional right to bargain with its 2002 legislation that removed class size and special needs support levels from the union contract.
Abbott said the government’s legal advice was not to appeal the ruling, because of a landmark 2007 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down similar legislation altering health care support workers’ union contracts.
In the health care case, Canada’s highest court extended the constitutional right to freedom of association to include collective bargaining for the first time.
In the school case, Justice Susan Griffin of the B.C. Supreme Court gave the B.C. government a year to work out an alternative to the 2002 legislation.
The BCTF has filed thousands of union grievances over class sizes and the number of students with special needs in classrooms around the province, as well as pursuing the issue in court.
Abbott said he called BCTF president Susan Lambert and B.C. School Trustees Association president Michael McEvoy to tell them he wants to see a negotiated solution.
But Abbott acknowledged that the government could end up legislating new rules if negotiations don’t produce a deal.
After Griffin’s court decision, the BCTF estimated that the government would have to add $275 million to the education ministry budget to reduce class sizes and provide support staff to restore conditions from 2002.
The BCTF’s current contract expires at the end of June. It was the first-ever negotiated contract with the B.C.’s 40,000 teachers, after a series of contracts that were imposed by NDP and B.C. Liberal governments.