By Richard Beaudry
Like most non-enrolling teacher specialists in BC, teacher-librarians experienced some difficult times from 2002 to 2017 due in large part to the stripping of the teacher contract by the provincial government but also by subsequent funding issues that compelled school districts across the province to make some tough decisions on cutting non-enrolling positions to save classroom teachers and programs.
Political Change and Contract Stripping
The year 2001 brought about change in the relationship between the BC Government and teachers in the province. The Liberals won the election of May 16th, 2001 with a resounding victory over the BC NDP taking 77 of 79 seats in the legislature.
Poised to win the BC Election in 2001, Gordon Campbell, who would be elected Premier, assured public sector workers in the province that the BC Liberals had no plans to roll back what they considered to be generous contracts that were negotiated by the BC NDP before the election. He stated to the press during the campaign “I don’t believe in ripping up agreements” and upon being elected “My government’s goal is to leave British Columbians confident that they can trust us.”
In January 2002, the Campbell government decided it could, in fact, rip up contracts. BC Liberal Minister of Education Christy Clark tabled Bills 27 and 28. The Bills stripped collective agreement articles that dealt with specialist-teacher ratios and guaranteed support for students with special needs. The bills also barred teachers from negotiating class-size and working conditions.
With the stripping of the collective agreements, the BC Liberals and BCTF would be in the courts starting at the BC Supreme Court in 2004 and ending up at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016. To deflect some of their legal losses over these years, the BC Liberals would table and enact new Bills that would effectively counter some of the decisions of the court.
The Long Road to the Supreme Court of Canada
In January 2004, the BC Supreme Court ruled that the manner in which the BC Liberals stripped provisions in the collective agreement using Bills 27 and 28 was invalid.
Three months later, the BC Liberals tabled and enacted Bill 19. The legislation removed all articles in the collective agreements of teachers that dealt with class-size limits, services to special needs students and support for specialist teachers.
In April 2011, Justice Griffin of the BC Supreme Court ruled in favour of BC teachers and found that Bills 27 and 28, enacted in 2002, were unconstitutional. She cited that an important factor in her decision was the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in 2007 that dealt with the stripping of the collective agreement of BC hospital employees in 2002. The BC Government’s own documents proved to be it’s legal impediment: “Internal government documents indicate that at least some government officials expected that the teachers’ union would be very opposed to the legislation,” wrote Griffin. “By passing this legislation without so much as consulting with the BCTF, the government did not preserve the essential underpinning of collective bargaining, namely, good faith negotiation and consultation.” She gave the BC government one year to fix the provisions of the collective agreements that were stripped. The BC Liberals decided that they wouldn’t appeal Judge Griffin’s ruling.
With the one-year deadline imposed by Justice Griffin approaching, the BC Liberals tabled Bill 22 in the legislature in March of 2012. Bill 22 repealed Bills 27 and 28 but, regrettably, the sections of Bill 27 and 28 that were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Griffin were rewritten into Bill 22. The Bill also imposed a two-year wage freeze on teachers in the province. The BCTF went back to court.
In September 2013, the BC Government’s chief negotiator Paul Straszak was on the stand, being cross-examined by BCTF lawyer John Rogers. Question: “So your objective as government was to increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike? Is that correct?” Straszak’s answer: “Yes. I’ll say that’s correct.” His admission was in stark contrast to the BC Government statements that they had negotiated in good faith with teachers before enacting Bill 22.
Two years later, in January 2014, Judge Griffin ruled again that the BC Liberals failed to amend the unconstitutional provisions of Bills 27 and 28 and ruled that Bill 22 was also unconstitutional. The lengthy court battle would continue as the BC Liberals decided to appeal the ruling to a higher court.
In April 2015, the BC Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the BC Government and overturned the court rulings of Justice Griffin. The BCTF then decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be the final stop in a long court case.
The court battle would end in November 2016 at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). In a landmark decision, the SCC ruled in favour of the teachers, effectively restoring all the articles of teacher collective agreements that dealt with class size, specialist teacher ratios, and supports for special needs students.
It should be noted that this was a stunning criticism by the Supreme Court of Canada of the BC Liberal’s decision to strip the teachers’ collective agreements in 2002. While it often takes months for the court to deliver a ruling, it took only a 20 minutes recess after hearing the legal arguments from both sides for the court to deliver a 7-2 decision in favour of the teachers’ union.
Teacher-Librarians – Looking back and moving forward
The stripping of the collective agreement by the BC Government in 2002 directly impacted teacher-librarians as well as many other non-enrolling teachers in schools across BC. First and foremost was the loss of positions. Statistics have shown that cuts to teacher librarian positions amounted to a third of school librarians across the province.
Change in FTE teacher-librarian positions: 2001–02 to 2014–15.
- Since 2001–02, the number of FTE teacher-librarians decreased from 922 FTE positions in 2001–02 to 577 FTE positions in 2014–15.
- There are 345 fewer FTE teacher-librarians in 2014–15 than in 2001–02.
- Teacher-librarians in BC public schools have been cut by more than one-third (-37.4%).
For the teacher librarians who did remain in BC schools the ratios changed, affecting services to students.With the increased ratio requirements for teacher-librarians, postings in school libraries often changed from full time to part time positions.
The British Columbia Teacher Librarian’s Association (BCTLA) survey of 2008 refers to the difficulties of part time work as a teacher librarian in BC schools: “Many respondents talked about how difficult it was for them to try to meet all of the responsibilities of a school librarian on a part-time FTE appointment. The lack of clerical support meant teacher-librarians had to spend more time doing administrative and basic library tasks at the expense of teacher collaboration and student projects.” When the mandatory ratios were stripped from the contract, many school districts replaced teacher librarians with library technicians to save on their budgets or simply cut library time to balance their school budgets.
A second important issue was school library funding. BC has the second lowest per student funding in Canada. The direct result of this is that school libraries in some districts received little or no budgeted funds. By 2011, nearly ten years after the stripping of the collective agreement, the working and learning conditions survey of public school libraries by the BCTLA indicated that fundraising was a necessity to library programs to be able to add new books to increasingly out-dated collections.
A third issue was the changing role of teacher librarians after the ratios were stripped and budget cuts occurred. To keep their posts, many teacher librarians, especially in elementary schools, were asked to provide prep-time coverage for other teachers in the school. This moved teacher librarians out of their role of teaching students research and literacy skills. Their role was downgraded to simply signing out books and possibly reading a book to students if time permitted. Their role was diminished to a point that it made sense to administrators to replace or eliminate teacher-librarians positions from the school library.
Moving Forward With a Changing Curriculum
The SCC court ruling reverses 15 years of cuts to school libraries and the loss of teacher librarian positions in B.C. but it will take some time to reset and revamp school libraries in the province. In some cases, the collections have stagnated for years. It will take some time to weed collections in some of the schools that have had no teacher librarian or library technician for years. This would also include schools libraries that have had no budgets for new purchases.
Hiring the number of teacher librarians required with the restoration of the collective agreement language will prove to be a daunting task for Human Resources Departments across BC in the short term. In some cases it will require increasing opportunities for teachers to obtain a diploma or masters degree in teacher librarianship. The Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley School districts are in negotiations to offer a cohort program in the Fraser Valley starting in the fall of 2017 for teachers wishing to specialize as a teacher librarian.
And it will also require teacher librarians to update their libraries. In school districts like Vancouver and Surrey, they maintained teacher librarians in their schools. Like any program in a school, there have been numerous updates and changes to how the school libraries help students with learning literacy and research skills. School libraries are becoming Learning Commons with Maker Space areas that could include 3D printers, virtual reality components as well as audio and video centres. It will take a few years to re-establish school library/learning commons programs that offer the level of service that will be required with the new Inquiry-based BC Curriculum that is being introduced in the province.
For the teacher librarians who continued to work in school libraries for the last 15 years it will be a time to share their expertise and mentor the hundreds of new teacher-librarians who will start work in the fall of 2017. Collaboration will be the key to have successful school library programs in districts across the province.
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Richard Beaudry. I am an Information Specialist and Librarian. I have worked as a teacher-librarian in K-12 schools and taught classes in the diploma and master’s programs in Teacher Librarianship at university. I am an ALA Certified Librarian and a Fellow of the Library Association of Ireland. I promote Human Rights and Freedom of Information concerns and I speak up on the censorship of materials in school libraries. I am a recipient of the 2016 CLA Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada.