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Campbell River school district fears cost of court ruling

The B.C. government has bought itself some time in implementing smaller class sizes – a costly move that concerns the Campbell River area school district.

School District 72’s board recently wrote a letter to the minister of education expressing its frustration with the state of B.C.’s public education system.

The frustration stems from a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in January that found for a second time that government legislation which imposes contract terms, violated teachers’ rights to collective bargaining.

The ruling means smaller class sizes for B.C. school districts.

Michele Babchuk, chair of School District 72, is concerned about the re-organization of schools, is necessary to accommodate the ruling.

“We are extremely concerned over the potential impacts on students, the relationship for future successful bargaining, and the economic viability of our district to continue to deliver essential services,” Babchuk wrote. “The ruling would require approximately 31 new teaching positions and $3.1 million in the first year alone. Increased staffing levels and supports for our students would certainly be welcomed, but should they prove to be unfunded, we simply could not provide an adequate level of service and/or the variety of programming required to support our district’s diverse needs.”

Babchuk said the board is calling on the province to fund any and all costs that boards of education will face in having to implement the changes.

The province has said it could cost the government as much as a billion dollars to satisfy the class size ruling, and is appealing Justice Susan Griffin’s decision.

On Wednesday, the B.C. Court of Appeal granted the province’s request to delay the implementation of smaller class sizes pending its appeal of the supreme court’s January ruling. The government is arguing that the ruling is unaffordable for taxpayers because thousands of new teachers will need to be hired as more classes will be required to satisfy the smaller class size limits.

Meanwhile, Elaine Thompson, president of the Campbell River Teachers’ Association, can’t believe the province continues to compromise teachers’ contract right.

“Just weeks after the BC Supreme Court ruling affirmed our rights and restored the language, the government is trying to take them away again,” Thompson said. “The government’s actions at the bargaining table have shown disrespect for the courts, for the law, for students, and for teachers.”

The government’s appeal of the ruling is not expected to be complete in time for new class size limits to be in place for the September 2014 school year, something that BC Teachers’ Federation lawyers had argued for.

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