Incoming BCTF president will fight for better teacher salaries

Teri Mooring, a vice-president at the union since 2013 and past executive member at large, will succeed president Glen Hansman.

Teri Mooring poses in this Feb. 2 handout photo outside the BCTF headquarters in Vancouver. B.C. Teachers’ Federation / PNG

The incoming president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says fighting for better salaries to put more teachers in classrooms is her top priority as she prepares to take the job on July 1.

Teri Mooring, a vice-president at the union since 2013 and past executive member at large, will succeed president Glen Hansman, who held the top spot for three years. Mooring was previously president of her local teachers’ association in Quesnel, where she grew up, worked at the pulp mill and taught Grades 6 and 7 for two decades.

The federation announced her election Tuesday at its annual general meeting.

Mooring said she will continue to work to address B.C.’s teacher shortage by bargaining for increased salaries to attract, recruit and retain teachers, particularly in rural districts that have struggled to hire educators.

Mooring’s immediate concern is the union’s contract with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which expires June 30. They have been doing preliminary bargaining since late January and on April 1 will return to the table. She’s optimistic they’ll make a deal and avoid job action.

“We haven’t really been able to make gains for a long time,” she said. “Under the previous government, it was all about cuts and concessions.”

The current contract was signed in fall 2014 after a bitter labour war with the previous Liberal government that resulted in teachers reducing extracurricular activities and students losing many instructional days.

The association faced the challenge of hiring 3,700 new teachers as a result of a court case that ruled class sizes should be reverted to 2002 levels — when the previous government illegally stripped teachers of their right to bargain class size and composition.

Mooring said she has worked closely with Hansman over the past six years and plans to keep the union on the same course.

“We really are aligned in our approach to issues and priorities,” she said. “I have a ton of respect for him and his skills, his approach and his relationship-building.”

Mooring said she has maintained a good working relationship with Education Minister Rob Fleming since his days as NDP opposition critic. Fleming congratulated Mooring on social media Tuesday and commended her for being dedicated to education in B.C.

But she doesn’t plan to give him a free pass.

“The BCTF has never shied away from congratulating the government when we agree with the things that they’re doing but also speaking out when they do things we don’t agree with,” Mooring said. “That’s not going to change.”

Mooring said fighting for “meaningful” salary increases is her top priority because B.C. teachers are falling behind the rest of Canada.

Teacher salaries in B.C. start at $49,376, ranking second last among the provinces and territories, and well below the $62,514 starting rate in Alberta’s public system in Calgary, according to the BCTF. B.C.’s maximum salary is 12th in Canada, at $78,757.

The union has also argued that the six per cent over three years offered by the B.C. government isn’t good enough. The consumer price index in B.C. rose by 2.7 per cent in 2018, up from a 2.1-per-cent increase in 2017.

“When you factor in the cost of living in B.C., that’s why we’re having a hard time recruiting teachers from elsewhere in Canada,” Mooring said.

Her career in Quesnel made her acutely aware of how this problem hurts some regions of B.C., she said.

Mooring said the teacher regulation branch has been issuing four times as many letters of permission for non-teachers to teach in classrooms during shortages since the restoration of contract language, putting more uncertified people in front of students, particularly in the North Central, North Coast and Peace regions.

“We’d really like to see the government do a lot more to attract, recruit and retain teachers,” she said.

Mooring said the union is pleased the government has added more teacher education spaces in universities, but said it’s a long-term solution. She wants the government to act on short-term recommendations to put teachers in hard-to-recruit districts through loan forgiveness programs and housing subsidies. There continues to be a shortage of teachers teaching on-call too, she said.

“Specialist teachers are still being pulled into classrooms to cover for classroom teachers, and so students with special needs are often the ones that go without that support or are asked to stay home,” she said. “That’s never OK, in our mind.”

Another priority for negotiation is class size and composition language, where there are still “gaps to fill,” Mooring said. Many districts have no compensation language in their contracts and some don’t have language restricting class sizes for Grades 4 to 12, she said.

She also has concerns about a funding-formula review launched by the provincial government in 2017, which the union warns could turn funding for special education into a “prevalence” model. In other provinces, this means using statistics and demographic information to estimate how many students in each district will need special-needs funding, rather than finding out how many students actually need the support.

“What we’re concerned about is that will result in fewer assessments of students, which will give a teacher less information to work with in their classrooms about student-learning needs,” Mooring said. “It will also put parents and teachers in the position of having to advocate for supports for these children.”

Mooring said the province has put implementing the funding formula on hold. They’re working together to fix the issue and the union is also pushing for solutions to chronic underfunding of special education, she said.

With files from Lori Culbert

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