Mountain public school trustee Lillian Orban says she still favours exploring the possibility of paying volunteers to run after-hours extracurricular activities even if some of her colleagues are cool to the idea.
The Ward 7 representative said she plans to bring a resolution to the Feb. 25 board meeting calling for a change to an existing policy that requires staff involvement in any extracurricular sports or other activities.
Most teachers have been boycotting the activities since December as part of their protest against Bill 115, which imposed two-year contracts on them that froze their pay and cut sick-pay and other benefits.
“I felt I had to do something,” Orban said, adding she’s aware of the sensitivity of the issue. “This is the only bargaining chip that teachers have,” she said.
“What is difficult for me to understand, I know you need to bargain and have a tool, but why use extracurriculars, which really are for children?”
Orban said if trustees approve her motion, she wants the board to sit down with its teacher unions to discuss possible compensation for after-hours activities.
But the retired teacher said she’d like to see an honourarium that would be available to both teachers and outside volunteers who would go through a police background check.
“There will be some volunteers who will say, ‘OK, thank you very much, now I’m giving it back because I just enjoy the sport or I just enjoy music,’” Orban said.
Board chair Tim Simmons declined to comment directly on Orban’s motion but said he wants to give Premier-Elect Kathleen Wynne a chance to “mend relations” with teachers before taking any action.
She will be sworn in on Monday and has vowed to try to settle the impasse over volunteer activities.
Simmons said extracurricular activities are a complex issue and the board must consider factors like liability, equity and the role of principals and volunteers.
“You’re going to have some schools where you’ll get more volunteers than others, and our board tries to be equitable,” he said.
“I think at this time the most important thing for us to do at the board is be patient and let’s give the provincial scene time to take shape.”
West Mountain trustee Wes Hicks, who volunteers as an assistant basketball coach at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School, said he also wants to give Wynne until the end of the month to resolve the dispute.
If she fails to do so, it will jeopardize winter sports and could hurt the ability of students to win university scholarships, he said.
“If this drags on, as a board we’re going to have to look at alternatives. It’s a very sensitive situation because we value the teacher-coach in our system,” Hicks said.
“Over the years they’ve been the backbone of our athletic programs and we want to make sure when this is over that the relationship is still there and they will continue to coach,” he said.
“I’ve been involved in high-school coaching now for 12 years, so I understand the anxiety of the students. They want to get back to it.”