School district representatives from across B.C. are meeting in Vancouver on Monday to discuss their next steps in a labour dispute with teachers that is stretching into its fifth week.
The B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA), which represents the school boards in their bargaining with the teachers, says it wants to hear from district representatives how the teachers' job action is affecting schools, parents and students.
The two sides are scheduled to sit down for talks later this week and BCPSEA chairwoman Melanie Joy said school boards need to decide if it's time to put more pressure on the union to jumpstart stalled contract talks.
"At some point the employer has to make a decision whether to put pressure back or to let it go."
The employers will discuss three options: cutting teachers' pay, refusing to pay benefit premiums and a lockout.
Joy said a decision would only be made after approval from the Labour Relations Board.
Education minister calls lockout dramatic
But Education Minister George Abbott said he's not prepared to endorse a lockout as an option to deal with job action.
"We are not considering locking out the teachers. Apparently that is one of the items on the agenda of BCPSEA today.We would obviously have a discussion with BCPSEA around a dramatic step like that."
Abbott said he hasn't talked to the employers about a possible lockout and hasn't given them any direction.
Teachers blast 'inflammatory' move
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert said teachers are not planning to escalate the job action, and calls the BCPSEA proposals provocative and inflammatory.
"I think BCPSEA is flailing and they are unable to do anything at the bargaining table other than ask for concessions," said Lambert.
"It would be better if BCPSEA would spend its energy coming to the table and constructively bargaining with us. I think that local district school trustees know that there's teaching and learning going on in schools and I think they'll be a bit surprised by this."
The five-year contract between the BCTF and BCPSEA expired on June 30 and teachers have halted all non-essential services until a new contract is signed.
As a result, some districts such as the Coast Mountain School District have eliminated recess. Students in Terrace are being asked to arrive at school 15 minutes later than normal until a new contract is signed.
"Although exempt employees, including myself, are enjoying the time in schools interacting with students and staff, it is proving to be an impossible workload to maintain as the job action continues with no end in sight," wrote School District 82 superintendent Nancy Wells in a message to parents last week.