The Alberta government’s teacher framework agreement has been ratified by Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) board of trustees.
Teachers and WCPS can look forward to a four-year agreement from 2012-13 to 2015-16 with no salary increase for the first three years. The fourth year sees a two-per-cent increase plus a one-per-cent lump sum payment on Nov. 15, 2015.
Trustees came to the agreement after a meeting April 3 with Gene Williams, executive director of strategic financial services for Alberta Education, and Doug Coffin, director of zone 4 services.
Chairperson Trudy Bratland was pleased to have Williams clarify the agreement. “He allayed any concerns or misapprehensions that we had.”
For secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson, the deal helps administration plan for the future. “Getting a zero, zero, zero and a two, that’s pretty substantial monetary implications for a school board.”
Salaries and benefits amount to $45 million that WCPS pays its teachers.
Henderson believes school boards and teachers have had to make compromises to ensure this deal can work.
However a long-term agreement brings stability to school boards and can take away from negotiations becoming political.
Superintendent Larry Jacobs believes an agreement over a longer period brings the focus back to the students. “So as soon as we get into that longterm contract arrangement we can focus on the really important things and not be sort of sidetracked.”
A negotiation process can take time away from administering students’ and schools’ needs.
Williams sat at the table with the Alberta Teacher Association and was able to convey some of the intent behind clauses in the framework agreement. He took extra time to explain two different clauses; the implementation of an exceptions committee and time limitations of 907 hours for teachers’ instruction time.
Williams explained that the exceptions committee was a decision made at the negotiations table, which pleased the ATA. “This is negotiations, it’s a give and take. ATA took a lot of comfort with the idea that this exceptions committee would have the ability to at least recommend something to a superintendent.”
Ponoka trustee Lori Jess feels the committee is adding more bureaucracy to the process. She used the example of professional development days to make her point. “What happens if a few teachers get together and say, ‘We don’t want to do that PD day…Let’s go to the review committee.’”
This would take extra time from students and administration.
The first step would be for the teachers to deal with their principals and then the superintendent; this exceptions committee would be a last resort. “But at the end of the day the board or superintendents office can say, ‘Thank you but were not changing our practice.”
The superintendent would have the chance to dictate what is reviewed.
For teachers requiring 907 instructional hours, chairperson Bratland feels WCPS will manage the requirement but she sees some challenges for rural schools, which are already stretched thin.
Boards are able to negotiate with teachers who have more hours to bring down their hours over the next years.
“We haven’t really discussed the nitty-gritty of that,” Bratland said.
Williams suggests if teachers are not going to receive a raise for the next three years then the board has to give something in return to teachers. He believes there are ways to manage that time and leaves it to individual boards and teachers to work out.
All or nothing for school boards and Alberta Education
The agreement gives all 62 Alberta school boards until May 15 to ratify the agreement. However Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education does not say what will occur if some boards do not sign the agreement.
“The minister has been questioned about what that means and what that looks like and his continual response has been, ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.’” Henderson explained.
There are some avenues left to the Johnson who could drop the deal completely. This would force the boards to deal with teachers’ contracts locally or there could be a ministerial order forcing school boards to make a decision.
“They’re really reluctant to doing anything solid with that at this point,” added Henderson.
“I’m fairly confident that one way or another this will move along,” stated Bratland.
She looks forward to the board of trustees’ plans for students.