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Teachers hopeful over new turn in court battle

KTTA president says decision in favour would ultimately benefit students
January 14, 2016 12:54 P.M.
Education Minister Mike Bernier on a recent visit to Bert Edwards School of Science and Technology.

While classroom needs increase in B.C., overall support for the public education system is decreasing, says the president of Kamloops Thompson Teachers Association.

That’s the crux David Komljenovic, KTTA president, sees in a legal battle going back 14 years between the B.C. government and the B.C. Teachers Federation over the ability to include class size and composition within collective agreements.

The BCTF won another significant victory Thursday in its ongoing dispute with government when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it will hear its appeal on the matter.

“I’m very hopeful,” Komljenovic said. “I’m certainly pleased that the Supreme Court of Canada is willing to hear our case. It’s not common that they hear appeals, so there were definitely some issues with the Appeals Court decision.”

The BCTF is appealing a decision by the province's court of appeal, which ruled that the legislation did not violate teacher’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The appeal court overturned a lower court finding in favour of the teachers.

A ruling in favour of the BCTF would restore bargaining rights that public school teachers had before 2002, when the B.C. government, he noted. Ultimately, that would benefit vulnerable students as well as public education as a whole, he said.

“First of all, there’s a growing need in the system and yet support for the system is decreasing.”

It’s particularly important for special needs students to get appropriate support from teachers and teachers aides as early as possible in their school years, Komljenovic said.

He said the case is expected to be heard by the top court within the next 10 months. A decision could be handed down within the year, none too soon from the BCTF’s standpoint. Students who entered kindergarten that year would have graduated from secondary school last year as the dispute has played out in Year 2 of the Gordon Campbell Liberal government.

Education Minister Mike Bernier put a positive spin on what could only be a setback for the government.

“We’ve always said that the BCTF’s application to have their case heard in the Supreme Court of Canada is part of the democratic process,” he said. “We are confident in our legal position and appreciate any further guidance the court may provide.”

Bernier said later in a news conference that the province has increased education funding by 31 percent since 2001, when the Liberals first formed government. Total funding amounts to more than $5 billion and that’s to increase by $421 million through the Learning Improvement Fund over the next few years, he added.

“Why? Because it’s important we invest in the students of B.C. for the future,” Bernier said, describing the province’s education system as one of the top ranked in the world.

BCTF president Jim Iker noted that the government never appealed the Supreme Court’s initial decision on the matter back in 2011.

“Class sizes are larger, class composition has deteriorated and 1,000 teaching positions have been closed,” Iker said. “This happened because the government wanted to cut education spending.”

Iker emphasized that government should not wait until the court processes are finished and act now to properly fund public education and address teachers' longstanding concerns.

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