When we started up Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers two weeks ago, our Facebook page quickly gathered around 400 members. Since our first bit of media coverage last Wednesday, membership has soared to over 5,000 and counting. We hope that premier McNeil is taking notice.
As a group of concerned parents and grandparents of students in public school, we have become frustrated with the government's simple and one-tone approach to dealing with the school system's many complex challenges: Blame teachers. Every day we leave our children in their care. They are highly trained, confront new challenges all of the time and are entrusted with one of the most important tasks in our society. And yet, premier McNeil wants to attack their dignity and autonomy, while spending lavishly on advertising campaigns and dishing out generous pay raises to his own high-ranking bureaucrats.
No wonder over 9,000 teachers are frustrated and angry. We believe the reasons for this are clear, and that many parents understand and sympathize.
First, the government's treatment of teachers does not in any way open the door to a better education system. Teachers are burdened with ever-larger class sizes, a variety of diverse needs in the classroom with little real support and mounds of red tape and "accountability" measures that drain away their teaching time. We'd rather our teachers have the space to be creative, and the effective support they need, based on genuine consultation and cooperation to provide the quality education that they have spent so long training to provide.
Add to this the slap in the face given by the government demanding what could amount to a cut of four percent in teachers' real wages (if inflation runs at current numbers), and the freezing of long-service awards for present teachers and its elimination for new ones. Fair compensation and the demands of keeping the profession attractive make this decision somewhat baffling. Where is the evidence that cutting wages and reducing benefits to teachers makes a school system better?
Second, we are concerned about the government's attack on collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a fundamental right, protected by the Charter, and is a price we pay for living in a democratic society.
As a proper employer, the McNeil government needs to sit down and negotiate openly with teachers. Instead, it wants to use its power to dictate an illegal ultimatum. Governments cannot remove the right to strike UNLESS they substitute binding, unfettered third-party arbitration. But the government wants neither a strike nor arbitration. How does running roughshod over basic labour rights make a school system better?
Third, as concerned parents, we recognize that teachers' working conditions are our children's learning conditions. For years now, governments in Nova Scotia, Canada and North America have been disparaging teachers and other valuable public workers to lower taxes to the wealthy and devalue public programs. We think it's time to say, "Enough is enough."
Teachers are raising some fundamental questions about our public education system and its ability to ensure that all students receive a quality public education on an equitable basis. A lot is at stake and that is why we as parents support teachers as the education experts and defenders of public education.