Readers of the Optimist who pay attention to provincial media coverage of education issues will be aware of the current round of negotiations between public school teachers and the provincial government.
On June 29, teachers in Delta voted strongly in favour of a strike as a response to the lack of meaningful progress at the provincial bargaining table. Since then, there has been little or no progress toward a negotiated agreement.
B.C.'s teachers recently served 72-hour strike notice. This means that Phase I, a "teach-only" phase of a province-wide strike, has begun. Teachers will be refusing to perform an array of non-teaching, administrative, paper and procedure-oriented tasks in Phase I.
However, teachers will continue to demonstrate their genuine commitment to students, their families and the community as a whole by focusing on the learning needs of students and the extra-curricular activities that students and teachers enjoy.
Teachers' historic commitment to public education and learning is genuine, continuing and real. Despite some of the negative commentary that is sometimes printed or broadcast (Teachers' need a reality check, Aug. 12), teachers remain intensely committed to teaching, loyal to their employer and protective of the best interests of their students.
In the early 1970s, Delta witnessed an unprecedented explosion in support for public education: buildings, teachers, support staff, educational program and resource supports of all kinds. Visit any Delta school to read the commemorative brass-plaques with the names of the distinguished ministers of education, and other provincial and local dignitaries who attended these celebratory events.
I'm sure the Optimist's archives contain many examples of the congratulatory speeches that were made at the opening ceremonies of yet another public school in Delta. Rightly, our community took great pride in opening, staffing and equipping schools.
But in every year since 2001, the government has deliberately cut public school funding by at least $275 million a year.
Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister George Abbott recently came to Delta for a staged, "invitees-only" media event at South Park Elementary. The premier announced $8 million in funding for school playgrounds throughout B.C.
Now, $8 million seems like a lot, but this is a trivial sum in contrast to the hundreds of millions that have been cut from resources and programs inside our school buildings over the past 10 years.
The premier posed for the media in front of the playground at South Park Elementary. She enjoyed the slide with the children who were brought in especially for this occasion. The irony of the situation is the elegant playground at South Park Elementary wasn't even paid for by provincial education funds, but by funds donated through parents' fundraising and from the municipality!
Government, through progressive funding and tax policy, needs to rededicate itself to the important and absolutely valuable purposes of public education. When it does, the benefits will accrue to all British Columbians.
It will take more than a few playgrounds and sunny-day photo-ops for government to reorder its priorities and to rebuild public education in B.C., but that is exactly what the increasing ranks of educated, informed and knowledgeable citizens are expecting our government to do.
In sum, it's not teachers, but the premier and minister of education, who need a reality check.
Paul Steer is president of the Delta Teachers' Association.