Education Minister Rob Fleming. (Black Press Media files)

Education Minister Rob Fleming. (Black Press Media files)

B.C. education minister says focus is on new curriculum, filling on-call teacher ranks

School year is expected to start Sept. 3, even though teachers have yet to reach a deal

The province’s education minister says he is focusing on the new senior curriculum and filling teacher-on-call lists as the 2019/20 school year gets underway.

This year will see a new curriculum in place for Grade 11 and 12 that Education Minister Rob Fleming said will focus more on real life skills and help students get a grip on what they want to do after the graduate.

During a press conference Wednesday, Fleming said parents and teachers can expect to go back to school on Sept. 3, even as mediated talks with the B.C. Teachers Federation continue.

Fleming said he is confident a deal will be struck, citing that 70 per cent of public sector union employees have had their collective agreements signed.

He said he was “perhaps a little bit” surprised that it’s taken 61 days of negotiation, 11 of which have been mediated, to not even have reached a deal with the teachers’ union. There are three more days of mediated talks scheduled, including Wednesday, for teachers to reach a deal.

“I want to say we’re hopeful that the parties can find solutions and reach a deal,” Fleming said. “I share the BCTF’s optimism that we can get to a deal.

He did admit he was a little nonplussed about the ads the BCTF has been playing in recent days.

One ad called on the NDP to “drop their attempts to increase class sizes and eliminate guaranteed support levels for students with special needs. We can’t go backwards.”

Fleming said he was “scratching his head a little bit at that ad campaign.”

“We have respected the media blackout, that we not bargain this in public through the media,” he said.

“I could probably also quibble a little bit the tone of the ad and the accuracy.”

Fleming pointed to the 4,000 teachers and 1,000 support staff hired since the 2016 court win that restored class size and composition language to teachers’ contracts, as well as an 85 per cent spike in out-of-province applications for B.C. teaching licences and 70 applications from France and Belgium for the licences. He said teacher vacancies going into this school year are now the same as in 2015, before the court decision.

But despite the BCTF’s comments, he said it was a “vastly, vastly different” negotiating environment with the teachers’ union than had been the case in prior years and that he was feeling good about a deal being struck.

Fleming said he would be speaking to superintendents in the coming weeks about filling teacher-on-call lists, which have been decimated by recent hiring sprees in urban regions.

Fleming cited a plan brought in last year by the Vancouver school board, where they “attracted 200 new [on call teachers] by guaranteeing a substitute teacher at least four days of work a week.”

The BCTF has said that the shortage leads non-enrolling staff, like librarians and educational assistants, having to take over classrooms for the day.

READ MORE: ‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

READ MORE: Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short


@katslepian

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