Chilliwack teachers talk issues on picket line Thursday

Watson elementary Grade 6 teacher Dave Petkau (centre, with sign up) and Kindergarten teacher Pam Duval (right) along with other teachers and CUPE members on rotating strike outside the school Thursday morning. - Paul J. Henderson
Watson elementary Grade 6 teacher Dave Petkau (centre, with sign up) and Kindergarten teacher Pam Duval (right) along with other teachers and CUPE members on rotating strike outside the school Thursday morning.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

Watson elementary teacher Dave Petkau was in front of the school for the 5 to 9 a.m. shift during Thursday's rotating strike.

The 57-year-old Grade 6 teacher is clearly frustrated, not because he wants a huge raise, but because Premier Christy Clark and the provincial government have been waging what feels like a war on public education.

"I love my job., I love teaching the kids. I'm there for the kids," he told the Times.

"Christy Clark says she doesn't want to hurt the kids but she has hurt the kids because she locked us out from recess and lunch and that is when we do a lot of remedial teaching and help with the kids who are struggling."

Thursday is the fourth day of B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) rotating strikes around the province. On Wednesday, the BCTF announced the rotating strikes would continue for the first four days of next week, which means School District 33 teachers will be off the job again on Tuesday, June 3.

BCTF president Jim Iker said the union is "committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement at the bargaining table."

Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters at the legislature Wednesday that he was “profoundly disappointed that while we’re still at the table, with all of the talk that’s been going on, that children and parents and communities are continuing to be held hostage and put in the middle of this dispute.”

The government is offering a 7.3-per-cent wage increase over six years. Teachers want 13.7 per cent over four years. Also at issue are class sizes, class composition and ratios of specialist teachers, such as librarians and resource teachers.

Also on Thursday, the Labour Relations Board will hear arguments from the BCTF and the employer over whether cutting wages by 10 per cent while they are locked out is legal.

Meanwhile, at Watson elementary, Kindergarten teacher Pam Duval has felt government cuts over the years directly affecting her students and her own pocketbook.

"The ratio is one to 22 mix," Duval explained of her class of four- and five-year-olds. "The year before, for custodial care, it's one to eight. . . . For me its so difficult when that is the expectation. To make it go to almost three times that amount for one person, I don't think that's fair to the kids."

Duval also said it gets harder and harder with less and less money every year for simple supplies.

"Every piece of paper is accounted for," she said. "I've spent $300 this year out of my own money. That's average. It's not like I went crazy."

For Petkau, the issue is also about money. He is three years from when he would like to retire but without a raise for the last four years, in a single income family, it will be tough.

He said other province the teachers make more money than he does, and the cost of living in B.C. keeps growing.

"I can't give a young person a job and go when I should go because of what's gone on."

The B.C. Supreme Court has twice deemed unconstitutional the government's 2002 removal of class size and composition from teachers' contracts.

The government has appealed that decision, arguing it would be too expensive to return to 2001 levels. That appeal not expected to be heard till the fall.

- with files from the Vancouver Sun

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