|Tentative agreement with ATA has school boards feeling left out in the cold|
|Local Content - Local News|
|Written by Caroline Zentner and Greg Price|
|Wednesday, 20 March 2013 16:21|
After more than two years of discussions, the provincial government has reached a tentative four-year agreement with the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). The agreement will maintain labour stability for the province’s 600,000 school kids and address teacher workload issues.
“I am exceptionally pleased that we were able to come to an agreement with our teachers that puts students first,” said Premier Alison Redford in a press release issued last Friday.
“We wouldn't have one of the world's best education systems without the outstanding skills Alberta teachers bring to our classrooms each and every day.”
“This agreement provides valuable stability in education, for students and for teachers, over the next four years,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association President Carol Henderson.
“We will be recommending this offer to teachers. It contains important elements to help provide teachers with more time to focus on improving student learning.”
It is that timing of which the ATA will be recommending the contract to teachers which has Sandra Dufresne, board chair for Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, bewildered on top of the fact tripartite discussions turned into the provincial government bargaining with the ATA with no school board input. Dufresne was on route to a conference call in Canmore with Education Minister Jeff Johnson on Friday when she received the news late Thursday.
“To say the very least, I am very disheartened with this agreement. Boards, as employers have been totally left out of the discussion and the timeline of approval of this (past ) Sunday is outrageous,” said Dufresne.
“The fact that the ATA and the government are going behind our backs once again. I am so angry over this. It wasn't even a week ago that the ATA was saying ‘We're so glad to be back to local bargaining, that's where it belongs.' And here they are doing a back-door Charlie on the school boards yet again. They have made it very clear they have no respect for boards."
Dufresne said parts of the framework agreement won't serve students well and set the stage for teachers to grieve decisions made by the superintendent or the school board in regard to their work conditions.
"There is talk of limiting instructional time to 907 hours a year but there's no clarity. Is that time in front of kids? Does that include prep time and marking time?" Dufresne said. "Our superintendent is going to be shop steward."
Cheryl Gilmore, superintendent of Horizon School Division concurred the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA)was not involved in the conversation leading up to the tentative agreement when it was announced late Thursday.
“So essentially a tripartite discussion became bilateral between the ATA and government. From a board governance perspective, it is disconcerting that the association representing school boards, the employer, was not involved,” said Gilmore. “The framework agreement was not provided to school boards until (Friday) morning, so there has not been opportunity to review it with the board.”
The ASBA called a school board meeting for all boards on Monday in Edmonton in which Horizon attended.
“Monday was the first time that 60 out of 62 school boards came together face to face to dive into this agreement and look at the content of it. There are some concerns in the deal for some school boards,” confirmed Jacquie Hansen, ASBA president, in a phone interview with the Times on Monday evening. “Hopefully, the ASBA will have a formal position closer to the end of the week about where we stand.”
Hansen confirmed in the agreement there is a hard cap for instructional hours of 907 per teacher per year for Kindergarten through Grade 12.
“We understand the teacher’s union is talking about how the workload is difficult and we are certainly willing to look at that. But, there are some policy shifts in this agreement that are actually limiting instructional time for our teachers and we think for some school boards that’s going to be a very difficult reduction to achieve and to be able to deliver services to our kids,” said Hansen. “It is our job to look at this contract with a critical eye and make sure the impact on our kids is limited. Right now we do have some concerns where each school board has some concerns with the language that is in the agreement.”
The four-year province-wide framework will see the salary grid for nearly 40,000 Alberta teachers frozen for three years, followed by an increase of two per cent in 2015 and a one-time lump sum payment to be funded by government in that same year. The ATA has recommended this agreement to its teachers who will now be asked to vote on it. Alberta’s 62 school boards will go through a similar process. Talks on issues of a local nature will continue between ATA locals and their respective school boards.
A commitment to review teachers’ workload is the cornerstone of the agreement. Alberta Education will conduct an internal review, as well as a third-party study, to look at how teacher workloads can be adjusted in a way that improves the educational experience of Alberta’s 600,000 students. Similar reviews will be carried out by each of Alberta’s 62 school boards, according to an issued press release on Friday.
“I want to express my personal thanks to everyone for their hard work,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson in its government-issued press release. “The stability and cost certainty this agreement represents means we can get on with implementing Inspiring Education initiatives and make a great system even stronger.”
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