B.C. teachers ratify agreement on classroom size and composition

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says it members have voted 98 per cent in favour of ratifying a deal recently reached with the province to restore contract language from a previous agreement that called for smaller class sizes.

The ratification marks the end of a 15-year-battle with the province over bargaining rights.

Details of the deal have been released. 

Union president Glen Hansman described the vote's results as "bittersweet," adding that school districts will begin hiring staff over the next months to be in place for the fall. 

"We're happy to be at the end," Hansman said. "We're happy to be able to turn the chapter and begin the process of working with school districts to do all the school organizing for September 2017, and all the hiring that has to happen."

But he added, "you can't help but think about all the students that have gone without ... all the teachers we've had that have left the system because the working conditions were more than anyone should have to deal with.

"And that's a shame because it never needed to happen."

The restored language means schools, students and teachers will see significant improvements in class sizes, better support for children with special needs and access to specialist teachers by fall, Hansman said.

"The next three months are going to be a frenzy of hiring," Hansman said.

Supreme Court ruling

The announcement comes roughly four months after the Supreme Court ruled that a provincially-imposed law blocking teachers' ability to bargain class sizes was unconstitutional.

The decision ended a lengthy legal battle over bargaining rights that started when the province imposed legislation that blocked discussions on issues including class size in 2002.

The ruling restored language to a previous agreement. Last weekend, the union reached a tentative deal with the province.

In January, the province announced it would provide $50 million to hire 1,100 new teachers as an interim measure while negotiations over the agreement continued.

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier said in a news release Friday evening that he was pleased teachers ratified the deal, adding it will reduce workloads and bring new staff into the school system.

Hansman said 21,156 teachers cast votes, or just over 50 per cent of B.C. teachers.

With files from the Canadian Press