Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 28, 2002
Catholic districts brace for teachers' strike
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
With a teachers' strike looming, several Catholic school districts are busy making preparations for the time teachers will be on the picket lines.
Most districts have released contingency plans that include shutting down schools and laying off support staff.
Teachers in several Catholic school districts across Alberta as well as Edmonton Public Schools have announced they will walk off the job as early as Feb. 4 to back demands for wage hikes up to 20 per cent.
The province has given school boards enough cash for a six per cent hike.
There will be no strike in Edmonton Catholic Schools as teachers are currently in the middle of a collective agreement.
The 320 teachers at Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike to start Feb. 4, forcing the board to draw up a contingency plan that includes closing all 12 schools and laying off some 200 support staff.
Board chair Gordon Bontje said support staff will be kept for five days following a strike and then they will be laid off.
"Schools will close, " he said. "We'll just shut down for the duration of the strike."
The schools will remain closed even to community groups. Parents have been urged to remove all student belongings and learning materials from the schools by Jan. 31.
"I'm sick about it but we have to get on with life," Bontje said about the possibility of a strike. "Children will get hurt."
He said the board will continue to negotiate to avert a strike "and we will continue to negotiate during a strike in an effort to end it as soon as possible."
The board of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools is still negotiating with the division's 400 teachers, but trustees have prepared a contingency plan in case the parties fail to reach a deal.
According to the plan, the division's 18 schools will be closed for instruction and extra-curricular activities, but will be open for community groups that use them in the evenings or weekends and to those who lease space before and after school.
Board chair Gordon Boddez said almost 250 support staff will be given two-week layoff notices in case of a strike.
"Teachers have not said if or when they are going to strike but we continue to bargain and we are making progress in some areas," Boddez said Jan. 23.
On Jan. 11, 80 per cent of the 275 teachers at the Lethbridge-based Holy Spirit School Division voted for a strike.
Although the strike committee has not yet announced a strike date, the school division is prepared for that eventuality.
According to board chair Marilyn Welsh, the division's 14 schools will stay closed and students will not have access to school facilities or school computers during the strike. All school-sponsored student activities will be cancelled.
If the strike is prolonged, the district may consider providing Grade 12 students with distance learning materials, says a memo sent to Holy Spirit parents.
The board is also recommending Grade 12 students take textbooks and other learning materials home to study. "Kids can keep learning even during a strike," Welsch said.
"I'm not pleased with this," the board chair said. "Any strike will not serve the kids at all."
But Ken Mack, chair of the teachers' negotiating subcommittee, said the strike is necessary to pressure the provincial government to meet the teachers' rightful demands.
"We are demanding better funding for education by the province," he noted, adding teachers want salary increases comparable to those awarded in the health sector, smaller class sizes and a plan to retain and attract teachers.