Minister of Education Jeff Johnson’s most recent provincewide agreement proposal was rejected by teachers, and the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA), Feb. 26 after it failed to address their two biggest concerns.
ATA president Carol Henderson received a letter from the minister and said its contents, and the contents of the four-year agreement, did nothing to assure teachers the government was prepared to offer the support they wanted.
“We saw the veiled threats of possible rollbacks,” said Henderson, referencing the letter.
The letter stated the provincial government would not pull the rug out from under teachers if they agreed to the terms of the deal. However, teachers wanted to know classroom conditions would improve.
Classroom sizes, student issues and teacher workloads have not been addressed by Johnson.
“I’m not hearing from teachers that we want salary increases, they’re talking about the kids,” said Henderson.
In schools across the province, special needs students and English language students aren’t receiving the attention they need from teachers because teachers aren’t receiving support from the government, said Henderson
“They have kids brought into classrooms that are already too large,” said Henderson. Classroom sizes are past capacity and are expected to get worse.
Along with not having the time to give students they attention they require, teachers hardly have the time to focus on actual teaching, said Henderson
She feels there are so many initiatives being introduced, such as new technology in the classroom, that teachers are so busy learning and planning nothing is being taken away from the classroom.
“Fifty-six hours a week is not sustainable and young teachers are leaving because they want balance in their lives,” Henderson added.
Putting those three aspects together is the reason the minister’s proposal was rejected, said Henderson. “That’s what we really needed to have and it just wasn’t there. Teachers just needed hope and there was no hope in that letter.”
Johnson wanted stability to come from the agreement and Henderson says if it was accepted the government would have received the stability while teachers were still left without assurance.
With the offer cast off, Henderson says collective bargaining is on the table. “Our historic roots are local bargaining . . . The five-year agreement was an exception.”
“They’re (teachers) just feeling it’s time to sit down with local people,” she added. School boards need to look at what they’re asking of their teachers and prioritize.
Henderson plans to get 62 local collective agreements, and while some individual teachers don’t agree with ATA and there may be labour action, the intent of local collective bargaining is to represent teachers, students and parents.
“We do speak for teachers, make no mistake,” said Henderson. “The minister and I do agree on the workload. He knows it’s an issue and I know it is.”
Over the past two and a half years ATA has come close to reaching an agreement with the government but this newest proposal is something they simply couldn’t accept, said Henderson.
“Our teachers are just so concerned about the students . . . What he’s (Johnson) not really understanding is that teachers are more concerned about the state of the classrooms.”
The proposal made by Johnson offered a three-year salary freeze followed by a two-per-cent raise in the fourth year, and lump sum in the third and fourth years, each equaling one-per-cent raise in their salaries.
However, the lump sum payments wouldn’t be added to the salary grid.
ATA was prepared to play the government’s financial game if their concerns were alleviated. On Nov. 30 ATA proposed to freeze salary grids for two years and providing for increases of one per cent in the third year and three per cent in the fourth year.
Johnson rejected their offer.
In a news release Johnson stated he was disappointed ATA rejected his fair offer.
Wolf Creek school board is unhappy with the new trajectory of the situation. “We’re very disappointed that the ATA didn’t accept the minister’s proposal. We’re were all hoping we could all come to the table and have four years of collective agreement,” said board chairperson Trudy Bratland.
Now the school board will start making headway through local bargaining. However, until the provincial budget is released on March 7 Bratland says they can’t make many plans. “We’re all waiting to hear what the budget brings.”