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Prince Rupert teachers union votes non-confidence in board of education

Prince Rupert teachers have no confidence in the school board’s ability to govern the district.

The Prince Rupert and District Teacher’s Union (PRDTU) unanimously passed a symbolic motion of non-confidence stating the vote was held to defend the value of Prince Rupert teachers and to ensure education funding is spent on students and not the legal costs associated with the ongoing labour dispute.

Prince Rupert union representatives said the unusual step was taken because of four years of a “tumultuous relationship” with the board.

“The level of disrespect teachers have been shown the past four years is unprecedented in Prince Rupert. They have unsuccessfully tried to gut our collective agreement and it has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in process; money that should have been spent on students,” Joanna Larson, head of the PRDTU, said.

Since June 2010, representatives from the PRDTU and the board have spent 17 days in arbitration/mediation sessions due to grievances the teacher’s union launched ranging from freedom of expression to contractual obligations.

Larson said teachers are frustrated with the board because addressing these grievances costs approximately $10,000 a day, not including fees and expenses of the consultant.

“The costs continue to mount with seven more grievances set to go to arbitration, including two based on the right to freedom of expression,” Larson said.

One of upcoming arbitration sessions will revolve around Dave Stigant, the acting director of instruction at the time, telling a local teacher a quote from Dr. Suess’ book Yertle the Turtle was too political. The story of Yertle the Turtle in Prince Rupert got international attention earlier this year, with more than 2 million online posts and tweets surrounding the topic.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that can look at [the Yertle the Turtle situation] on the face of it and think what our school district is doing is right,” Larson said.

Tina Last, board chair, said the district cannot avoid arbitration sessions.

“The board has an obligation to defend the district in the face of grievances and often they go to arbitration. If there’s a grievance that has to go to arbitration, you can’t avoid the arbitration cost,” she said on behalf of the board.

Larson told the Prince Rupert Northern View teachers are frustrated with the amount of arbitrations because prior to 2001 the teacher’s union and board of education didn’t have to go to the provincial level to resolve matters.

The PRDTU said they are also unsatisfied with the amount of money that has been spent on severance packages to upper management since 2009, referring to the district paying departing superintendent Eric Mercer $144,802 in severance pay in 2009, as well as paying consultant Gary Doi more than $20,000 to find a short-term and long-term replacement for Mercer. Then in 2010, assistant superintendent Leah Robinson left the district for unknown reasons, and was on paid leave for the 2010-2011 school year.

Although the board of education isn’t commenting in detail about the vote of non-confidence, the topic will be discussed at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

“The PRDTU has not made the board aware of this vote and motion, so it’s difficult to comment. We’re hopeful the union will see fit to provide us with that information,” Last said on behalf of the board.

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