$8-million playground pledge irks striking teachers
The B.C. government is pledging to give school playgrounds an $8-million funding upgrade, but teachers say the money could be better used as their contentious contract negotiations continue to make little progress.
Premier Christy Clark announced the funding for 44 new playgrounds and 100 playground upgrades on Friday, calling the jungle gyms "an extension of the classroom."
The funding will mean all elementary schools in the province will have a playground for their students.
But Jim Iker, vice president of the BC Teachers Federation, says that kind of money could also help in classrooms or go towards wage increases for teachers – one of the major sticking points in the talks.
B.C. Education Minister George Abbott says the $8 million wouldn't go very far in terms of a widespread wage increase.
"They're talking in the $2-billion range and we don't have $2 billion," Abbott said, adding that the money announced Friday comes from the treasury board, and is not part of the same purse that would pay education staff.
"We've worked really hard to find money for playgrounds, especially on the eve of kids going back to school."
Iker admits the $8 million wouldn't be enough money, but fixing schools and keeping teachers happy doesn't – and shouldn't -- come cheap.
"Investment in our schools and public education is a costly amount. But we need to treat it as an investment, an investment in our students and an investment in our future," Iker told CTV News.
Iker said progress at the bargaining table between the teachers and the B.C. government has been minimal since the BCTF filed a strike notice on Wednesday.
Abbott said the government hasn't given up on the issue of wage increases for teachers, but its "net-zero" mandate stands, meaning a wage freeze for all public service employees.
But the policy has been a sticking point with B.C. educators, who maintain they are underpaid when compared to their counterparts in other provinces.
Iker says the government could come up with the cash for a raise if they really wanted to.
"When the government thinks that something is important with them they find the money. It's just whether they have the will to put that back into public education, and improving our salaries and prep time," he said.
Beginning Tuesday, classes will be in session, but teachers will not conduct routine administrative tasks, including filling out forms, collecting data or meeting with principals and other administrators.
The Vernon School District is cancelling recess for its students when school resumes, citing a lack of supervisory staff to monitor the children.
Despite this, Abbott believes that the inconvenience to teachers and students will be minimal during the first phase of the strike.
He is also hopeful there will be a speedy resolution at the bargaining table, but admits it's been a rough road so far.
"This is going to be challenging but I do hope the parties continue to work hard. It's not like we've given up the issue of a wage increase."