Dale Bass – Kamloops This Week
The Kamloops-Thompson board of education approved on Monday night a one-week spring break for the 2017-2018 school year — maybe.
After prolonged debate, the board voted 6-3 in favour of an amended version of one of three suggestions it was given by administration to consider, choosing the option of a three-year school calendar with an annual one-week spring break.
However, that comes with the proviso that senior administration negotiate with the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association (KTTA) and Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3500 to revise contract language to enshrine a two-week break.
If they can do it before the end of this school year, the one week spring break planned for the next school year could become two weeks.
About 30 teachers attended Monday’s board meeting at the school districts Ninth Street office in South Kamloops. Afterwards, they expressed their anger that trustees had ignored input received from all its partner groups, from parents to teachers to support staff, that supported a two-week break.
Teachers also noted trustees ignored the fact School District 73 is one of very few in the province that has a one-week spring break. Of the 60 school districts, seven, including Kamloops-Thompson, will have one-week spring breaks as of next year.
Voting in favour of the motion, which was moved by Rhonda Kershaw and seconded by vice-chair Gerald Watson, were chair Meghan Wade and trustees Cara McKelvey, Kathleen Karpuk and Shelley Sim. Voting against and arguing for an option presented to extend the letter of understanding the board has with its unions (that established a two-week spring break in 2014) while contract language is negotiated were trustees Denise Harper, Joan Cowden and Joe Small.
Afterward, incoming KTTA president Amanda Jensen told the angry teachers who gathered at the school board office to remember how they were feeling and carry it with them to the municipal election next year, when trustees are also elected.
Current KTTA president David Komljenovic said he believes the unions will be asked to give up some of the language in their existing contracts in order to get agreement on language enshrining a two-week break, something to which he suggested trustees had not given enough thought.
He said it’s possible the administration might want to add days to the school year to accommodate the extra week of vacation. He suggested that might not be approved by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, which bargained the collective agreement for all school districts.
Komljenovic said he and his members “would have preferred a decision” rather than approving one direction that might change and he suspects many parents will not be happy with the outcome.
“It doesn’t address what parents want,” he said, referring to what all trustees acknowledged was a majority viewpoint received during consultations with parents that they wanted the two-week break to continue.
Those speaking in favour of the motion said trustees owe it to their partner groups to address the issue through contract language so they are not faced with deciding on an extension of the letter of understanding every year. That letter covered a three-year pilot project period that expires at the end of this school year.
Board chair Wade, discussing the many school districts that have the two-week break, said those boards made the decision “as a cost-saving measure,” something she said SD73 is not going to do. Calling those decisions flawed, Wade said they hurt CUPE members because they weren’t considered in the discussions that led to the decisions and lost out on wages as a consequence.
She said SD73 created a pilot project that did not have a negative income impact on the support staff.
“We did it respectfully,” Wade said.
Cowden, in an impassioned speech that drew applause from the audience and at least one other trustee, told her colleagues: “I’s not fair to prolong this. It’s time to make a decision.”
She said teachers, parents and school support staff “want the same thing 53 other districts have and that’s not asking a lot.”
Cowden cautioned parents are “already feeling somewhat frustrated and annoyed They felt the consultation process was a waste of time and trustees weren’t listening. We need to show them we do listen. We value their opinions.”