Thursday, 22 February 2018

My 13th year of teaching, 9 years seniority, step 1 of the pay grid. Help?

After 12 years of teaching in another BC district and London, England, I was finally hired in Vancouver. I'm not a super emotive person, but I was proud and happy about it because it was a long-time goal. My old district was wonderful to me, but I'm from the city, I live downtown, and I wanted to teach here.

I started the school year as a TOC, but through a series of odd events, I've ended up in one school with a full-time continuing contract in a special-education classroom. I love my new school; my students are excellent, challenging, funny, and complicated; I couldn't have designed better colleagues if I had started from scratch; the support and understanding from the principal, VPs, and counselors have been amazing. Insight and support from my previous union local has always been helpful, and of course the people at my new local union, the VSTA, have been very supportive and put in a ton of time for me trying to sort this all out. Thanks once again for all that!

I have friends and colleagues who think that posting this online is a bad idea, but I'm really out of options, I'm running out of money, and it's all true, so what the heck? I mean no ill will. I fully respect my employer, but I really think there have been some errors in communication that shouldn't happen again, and as you'll see below, there are some contractual questions that cannot be explained away.

Because of the situation I explain below, I have been seeking some flexibility from the VSB going forward that so far has not been forthcoming, so I felt compelled to write this, both to get my head around it all and to see if anyone else thinks I have a point. Also, I want people to understand why I left, if I do indeed decide to leave. I have been patiently waiting for something to happen for almost 5 months, but nothing has happened, so here goes...

Part One

Teachers are paid based on a pay-grid system that goes from zero to ten years. Recent contracts had enabled me to reach step 8 on the pay grid in my previous district, and I was expecting, because each district does the math a little differently, to be on step 7, 8, or 9 when I took my new contract, but here's where the story takes an unexpected turn...

Article C.4, below, is the language in the latest contract between teachers and the province that outlines how TOC (sub teacher) days are treated for placement on the pay grid. C.4 is now the language used for TOCs across the province, including Vancouver. C.4 says: if you are a TOC in BC, you gain 1 day experience for each day worked (in short: 1 day worked = 1 day FTE.)

This is provincial language from the contract between the BCTF and the province:



1. Experience Credit

a. For the purpose of this article, a teacher teaching on call shall be credited with one (1) day of experience for each full-time equivalent day worked.

b. One hundred seventy (170) full-time equivalent days credited shall equal one (1) year of experience.

2. Increment Date for Salary Grid Placement

Upon achieving one (1) year of experience, an increment shall be awarded on the first of the month following the month in which the experience accumulation is earned.

If you are a TOC in Vancouver, when you take a VSB contract, they use the above provincial language (C.4) to determine where to place you on the pay grid, but if you come from another district to either start TOCing or start a contract, the VSB uses language in the local contract, below (found at the bottom of Article B.26). The reason for this is not explained.

This is local language between the VSB and BCTF. (Local contracts often contain some old language, usually called "superior" language, that is kept because it is agreed by both parties that it still serves a fair purpose.)

One (1) year's experience is equivalent to a minimum of sixty per cent (60%) of full-time employment during one (1) school year. That sixty per cent (60%) could be in the form of six (6) out of ten (10) months of full time work or for a point six (.6) FTE assignment for a full school year (ten (10) months) or some other combination that totals sixty per cent (60%) for an FTE over one (1) year in one (1) school district.

The Vancouver School Board is using this language to deny me (and others) experience credit from my former district and place me at step zero of the pay grid (later adjusted to step 1 after they accepted an 8-year-old 7-month contract from London, England because it meets the 60% threshold).

Please notice the underlined "or some other combination" bit. What else can it mean if not my case? "Some other combination" can mean anything. It is a very poor choice of words for a contract, but that's how it's written, so if they're insisting on using this language, they should use ALL of this language. I believe the underlined opens the door to any other combination of FTE including the one-day-at-a-time FTE TOCs are guaranteed in C.4. It isn't "some other combination but not THAT one."

And surely they aren't conflating the idea of FTE with "full time." FTE MEANS "Full Time Equivalent," or in other words, very pointedly, NOT "full time."

All of that said, I firmly believe B.26 is not intended for TOCs at all, but the VSB applies it to external TOCs, possibly out of tradition, I'm assuming, more than any contractual accuracy.

I believe it's not intended for TOCs because the 170 FTE day threshold in C.4 is measuring a different thing than the 60% threshold in B.26. The 170 days can add up over 2 or 3 or any number of years, if a TOC doesn't work very often; in contrast, the 60% must be in one year. C.4 is for non-contract substitute teachers everywhere in the province; B.26 is for contracts that are measured in percentages. For the record, I have worked more than 60% of every school year.

A little further down in the contract, right at the very top of the article, you'll find this:


Note: This Article B.28 “Increments” does not apply to TTOCs. Entitlement to increments for TTOCs is in accordance with Article C.4 Teacher Teaching on Call Employment.

This strongly suggests to me that nothing in any section of Article B is intended for TOCs whether in or out of district, and yes, it isn't in B.26, but regardless, why does tenuous language at the end of B.26 negate the very clear language of C.4?

Also really odd, B.28 is local language in the Vancouver contract, so it's not provincial language that is being negated by more specific local language; B.28 is local language that is pointing to the provincial language in C.4. Vancouver's own language is saying don't look here (or here) for this information; look here. I realize this is all very convoluted, but basically I'm just wondering if there is a contract in the world that allows for the vague to override the specific? I'd really like to know...

If B.26 overrode C.4 for Vancouver TOCs, I wouldn't have as much of an argument, but it doesn't. Vancouver TOCs get C.4, language that is specifically written for TOCs, and is applied to every TOC, in every district in the province. B.26, language that doesn't mention TOCs at all, that I think I've shown the VSB is interpreting incorrectly, somehow makes the experience I've earned from provincial contract language vaporize when I cross a bridge.

Another reason I believe B.26 isn't for TOCs is that I am able to transfer ("port") my seniority from my old district to Vancouver. (It's often confused, but seniority numbers and pay grid numbers are 2 different things.) I haven't done so yet because of the limbo I find myself in, but I have somewhere right around 9 years of seniority, as a rough guess. So my seniority transfers because of contract language specific to seniority and TOCs, but my experience credit does not transfer because of vague language being used for the wrong thing. I'm a teacher in my 13th year, at 9 years seniority, on step 1 of the pay grid... How does this happen?

Apparently some TOCs relocated from across the country only to find they were not granted their earned experience because of this language. That's quite tragic, but I'm still in the same apartment; I can't imagine relocating from another province to discover my pay is so much less than I anticipated. And I'm not talking 100s of dollars either. The whole point of this blog post is that I'm making roughly $16000 less than I expected for a MUCH harder job that they could not have hired me for if I didn't have my experience. They are gaining from my experience, but not paying for it.

Part Two

The second part of this epic tale, and why it's all kind of absurd, is that I wasn't informed where I would be placed on the pay grid until after I had accepted the contract. A couple of friends suggested I was negligent to have not found out before signing, and they're obviously probably correct in hindsight, but I (and nearly every other teacher you ask) assumed that C.4 applied across district boundaries. And, in fact, in many cases it does; for example, if I moved from Vancouver to Delta, all of my experience would count. But in Vancouver, a district having so many problems retaining teachers, it does not. I asked about it in my interview in the middle of September. The interviewers (a very nice bunch of people!) admitted they didn't know and said that salary would be dealt with by HR.

On August 30th I wrote an email to ask for clarification about the pay grid issue because I suspected there might be something that didn't translate for TOCs, and I couldn't get a solid answer at our training session earlier in the day after asking 3 or 4 head-office employees. I did not receive a reply to my emailed questions until September 29th (4 weeks later!), the very day my first startling paycheque hit the bank.

I accepted the contract in the middle of September because I assumed taking a contract meant C.4 would of course apply. I NEVER would have accepted the contract if they had answered my emailed questions in a timely manner and we wouldn't be in this mess. I might still be TOCing in the room because of the teacher shortage, but I simply can't afford to work full time in Vancouver at this rate of pay, and I wouldn't be forever tied to this continuing contract at step one (with 7 years to climb to where I was just a few months ago). I had even convinced myself that I was doing them a favour by taking on a difficult special-education contract, in part because of the teacher shortage and in part because they were going to be paying me (I thought) a fair salary to make the hard work worthwhile.

Where Things Stand

The choices I'm being given are:

1. Stay in Vancouver in my very challenging class for $16,000 less than I was making last year. Keep in mind that this much lower salary also means much lower pension contributions, so staying in Vancouver affects me now and through retirement.

2. Go on leave at my current rate of pay (which doesn't really help because the salary is still so much less than I was expecting). I am unfortunately having some legitimate stress issues, exacerbated by this whole situation, but even if I went on leave, when I returned, I would still be on step 1 of the pay grid.

3. Quit and return to TOCing in my former district (a much less stressful job for $16,000 more per year) and probably never get hired in Vancouver again.

Alternative compromises I have offered:

1. Resign my position, but stay until they hire a replacement (with the current shortage of special-education teachers, this would likely take a while), and then return to the TOC list. I would then sub in Vancouver but also augment my income with sub days in my old district at the higher rate.

2. Stay until the end of June (i.e. teach the entire school year at $16,000 less) if they will let me return to the TOC list in September. I would then sub in Vancouver but also augment my income with sub days in my old district at the higher rate. This compromise is actually not that far removed from a policy the VSB already has in place: part-time contract teachers can return to the TOC list for the following school year as long as they notify the district before April 1 of the current school year.

The response to both of these resolutions has been: Nope, not allowed. I cannot resign a full-time continuing contract and return to the TOC list. I can only quit the district altogether and then start over at the beginning of the TOC application process, knowing that my VSB resignation will appear on my application. I'm trying to help a smooth transition, but it just doesn't seem possible.

It seems the only real choice I have is to quit, disappoint my students, their parents, my colleagues, and, in many ways, myself. My students have varying levels of autism and developmental challenges, and have a very hard time with change, and we have made a very good and important bond. This disruption would cause distress and quite probably incidents of violence in my complex room that my excellent colleagues will be left to dealt with as they go through sub after sub until they finally hire someone. The VSB will have the expense and challenge of finding a replacement who might not even exist in the current shortage climate. Although unlikely, they could also end up hiring an experienced teacher with an MA who would cost them a lot more... And believe me, my room needs an experienced teacher!

I'm more torn about this than about anything ever and I don't know what to do... Do I have an argument? Should I just walk away? Help?

Thanks for reading!