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Striking B.C. teachers, employer to continue talks this week

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s striking public school teachers and their employer will return to the bargaining table this week after restarting negotiations on Friday, just weeks before the new school year. Nancy Knickerbocker, with the B.C.
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From left, Bev Sawatzky, Paul Waterlander, Ian Johnson, Karen Goreas and John Stamhuis picket at the Sooke school district office on July 31, 2014.

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s striking public school teachers and their employer will return to the bargaining table this week after restarting negotiations on Friday, just weeks before the new school year.

Nancy Knickerbocker, with the B.C. Teachers' Federation, says the two sides met all day Friday and agreed to meet again this week, although no schedule for talks has been established.

Teresa Rezansoff, president B.C. School Trustees Association, says she's optimistic as discussions proceed and notes trustees are working on the assumption school will be back in session in September.

The government's chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, declined to comment.

B.C.'s finance minister has said the provincial government will provide parents $40 a day to pay for child care or tutoring if the teachers' strike isn't resolved.

The disagreement between the province and its more than 40,000 teachers over pay, class size and classroom composition escalated into a full-scale strike that ended the school year two weeks ahead of schedule. (The Canadian Press, CHNL)

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Earlier story:

Teachers and government negotiators are taking the weekend off after a full day of contract talks on Friday.

Further sessions have not been scheduled, but both sides agreed to keep talking about what comes next.

The meeting between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which negotiates on government’s behalf, was their first face-to-face bargaining since June.

A full-scale teachers’ strike began June 17 following three weeks of rotating, one-day strikes.

Saanich Teachers’ Association president Mark Skanks, who represents about 500 members, said he did not expect to hear a lot from the talks for the time being.

“Unfortunately, [I’m] not privy to much more than the average person,” he said.

Skanks said it is encouraging that full bargaining teams are involved, and he is hopeful that mediation could be coming to deal with the labour situation.

“I think people are pretty keen to see it resolved, but not ready to go back if it isn’t.”

The first day back at talks happened to coincide with Saanich teachers holding a rally on the Pat Bay Highway’s Royal Oak overpass. Forty teachers showed up to wave and hold signs as vehicles passed.

“We counted about 800, 900 honks in the hour,” Skanks said.

Parent Stephanie Longstaff said she simply wants to see students get back to school in September.

“I’m always optimistic,” said Longstaff, a member of the Sooke Parents’ Education Advisory Council. She said she was encouraged that the government was poised to bring new “concepts” to bargaining, although it hasn’t said what they are.

“Something new at the table’s better than the same old thing.”

The B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils has decided to hold a provincial meeting next weekend in Richmond, Longstaff said.

“The parents are organizing because they want to have a clear voice.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com