Province reclaims money saved during teachers’ strike

The Ministry of Education is reclaiming money saved by school districts during the latter part of the provincewide teachers strike — a move a local official says was expected.

Greater Victoria school district superintendent Sherri Bell said the district kept 20 per cent of the money saved during job action in May and June — a total of $1.3 million — but was told that all of the September savings would go back to the province.

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“We anticipated that we may not be able to keep the strike savings,” Bell said. “Each time there is a strike, it’s really up to the ministry.”

B.C.’s public school teachers went on strike June 17 after three weeks of rotating one-day strikes. Classes resumed this week after the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association, which negotiates on behalf of the provincial government, reached a deal through mediator Vince Ready. In all, students missed 27 days of classes.

Bell said the amount that will be going to the provincial government from her district is still being calculated. “We actually don’t have to report it until the middle of October.”

Districts have been provided with a list of savings that will be reclaimed, including teachers’ wages and benefits, she said.

“Some of the items on that list will just be deferred,” Bell said, counting supplies and professional development among them.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention on Friday that districts retained some funds in May and June because they had such duties as preparing marks. “So there was a much larger burden on school districts at that time [than] there was in September.”

NDP education critic Rob Fleming said there were indications in August that school districts would get a 20 per cent share of strike-related savings in the case of September job action.

“School districts are always struggling to deal with downloaded costs, plus they’ve taken international-education revenue hits in Victoria and lots of places,” Fleming said. “The reality is that the cost of the clawback to school districts right now are unknown.

“Not only [has the government] spent two school years now running down their relationship with teachers, they’re now clawing back funds that superintendents and elected school officials need to run public education.”

Fassbender said the strike savings will cover the strike support payments promised to parents of public school students 12 and younger. The $40-a-day was offered to parents to put their children in care or educational programs until school was back in session.

The payments were expected to use up much of the $12 million a day the government figured it saved during the strike.

Details on savings made by districts are beginning to come in to the ministry, Fassbender said.

“Once we have all of that and we see what the final numbers are, then we’ll be dealing with each of the districts on what the implications were for them.”

A letter sent to all districts by the ministry said areas with “particular financial difficulty” linked to the strike will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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