BC teachers need a reality check on wages and benefits

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Appeared in Business in Vancouver, August 2011

Given the current fiscal climate -- the BC government's significant deficit ($1.4 billion over the next two years) -- and comparisons with the income of average BC families, now is hardly the time for BC teachers to be asking for more. Rather than give to the demands of the BC Teachers Federation, Premier Christy Clark should ensure the next collective agreement ties teacher pay to performance.

Consider that as a result of the recent recession, the income of average BC families has grown by only 0.8 per cent, on average, over the past four years. That's lower than the rate of inflation. In other words, consumer prices have increased faster than the income of average BC families. Indeed, many families are actually worse off today in real terms.

But not BC teachers. They signed a generous collective agreement in 2006 that gave them average wage increases of 2.5 per cent over five years (add in benefits and total compensation increase by 16 per cent over the life of the agreement). In addition, each teacher received a $4,000 signing bonus. After inking that deal, then-BCTF President Jinny Sims boasted of achieving "significant gains."

While average BC families struggled during the recession, BC teachers prospered. And after all this, the BCTF wants even more as it renegotiates its contract.

Here's what the BCTF is currently asking for:

  • 26 weeks (half year) paid leave to care for someone (being a family member is not a requirement);
  • a year's pay as a 'bonus' for retiring veteran teachers;
  • two weeks paid leave upon the death of any friend;
  • five paid days per year for professional activities;
  • two sick days a month that can be saved up; and
  • a substantial pay increase (not yet specified) that would make BC teacher 'the best paid teachers in the country.'

According to the teachers' "employer" -- the B.C. Public School Employers Association -- it would cost BC taxpayers more than $2 billion to meet their demands. And that doesn't include their full salary demands.

And while the BC teachers union continues to ask for more, it refuses to consider a 'merit pay' system that rewards teachers for effective teaching and encourages less successful teachers to improve their skills.

Such systems are common in both the public and the private sectors. Sales commissions, bonuses for established levels of superior performance, piece work, team incentives, and pay raises based on past success are all common systems of merit pay.

BC teachers generally earn a pay increase in two ways: all teachers get an annual increase after completing each of their first 10 years of service; and pay increases are awarded to teachers that complete additional schooling.

But the research here is clear. Except for the first couple of years of teaching, more experience doesn't make a teacher more effective. Likewise, an advanced degree doesn't necessarily produce a more effective teacher.

The current compensation system for BC teachers simply does not recognize effectiveness, and the BCTF isn't willing to consider one that does.

Add to this the fact that it is nearly impossible to penalize a failing teacher and you have a compensation system that contributes little to the improvement our children's future.

BC families need the government to reach a reasonable deal with the teachers union before kids return to school in September. Unfortunately, the BCTF's current demands are not reasonable.

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