B.C. budget doesn’t cover further salary hikes for public-school teachers

Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has said it will seek improvements in pay and benefits when negotiations begin next month, although the new provincial budget makes no allowance for increases.

An expansion of full-day kindergarten this fall and a previously negotiated pay hike for public-school teachers gave a slight boost to education funding in the provincial budget Tuesday, but not enough to cover further salary increases that might result from contract talks this spring.

Budget documents suggest the Liberal government remains committed to its earlier directive that says public-sector agreements signed in 2010 and 2011 must incur no net increase in costs over two years. Asked about funding for a new contract, Finance Minister Colin Hansen replied: “Negotiations will have to be undertaken in the context of the wage mandate that government has approved to date.”…

The budget shows a total operating fund for 60 public-school districts of $4.7 billion in 2011-12, although the amount is slightly higher when calculated over the school year. Districts won’t find out their share until March.

The 2011-12 allotment includes an annual facilities grant of $110 million, which marks a return to the amount that was in place before fall 2010 when Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid surprised school trustees by abruptly cancelling the grant for the year. The government later restored half of it.

The plan to make full-day kindergarten available for all five-year-olds this fall also accounts for much of the increase in capital spending, with the construction of hundreds of modular classrooms. The estimated capital budget for next year is $520 million, up from $430 million this year.

Expanded kindergarten has also produced the first bump in public-school enrolments in B.C. in a dozen years. Student numbers jumped by about 15,500 students last September when full-day kindergarten was introduced for half the eligible children and is expected to increase by the same amount this fall when the plan is fully implemented. That will lift total enrolments to 564,933 full-time students, ending a downward slide that began in 1998-99 when the count was more than 600,000.

The so-called “status-quo” budget also showed next-to-no change in post-secondary education funding, with a total allotment of $1.9 billion next year.