Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson and his entourage made a whirlwind stop in Stettler late Monday afternoon to do a bit of politicking.
His visit was ostensibly to encourage the Clearview School Division trustees to reconsider ratifying an agreement with the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).
That was somewhat of a moot point, however, considering the province has revealed plans to legislate a new deal with teachers.
The Clearview meeting with the minister was held in camera — and out of the public eye.
Clearview trustees voted in March not to ratify the agreement, but at a special meeting Monday immediately after the minister’s visit, they reversed their decision and voted unanimously to support the ratification.
Some trustees believed the meeting was somewhat irrelevant as Johnson indicated that regardless of unanimous support, the government would go with the will of the majority and legislate a four-year agreement with the ATA.
“It was nice to hear from the minister and actually have him here in person,” said Clearview chair Ken Checkel.
The trustees now believe the agreement is “financially good” for Clearview division, whose teachers earlier endorsed the deal.
The four-year agreement reached by government and the ATA would see compensation for 40,000 Alberta teachers frozen for three years, one of which has already passed since the end of the previous agreement.
That would be followed by an increase of two per cent in 2015-16 and a one-time lump sum payment — to be funded by government — in that same year.
The agreement would also see Clearview teacher salaries, which are now ranked 61st out of 62 in the province, brought up to provincial average, at the cost of the government.
“That’s great for our staff,” Checkel said.
ATA local president Corey van Zandbergen believed the agreement was positive.
“I am encouraged the board reconsidered their position and am looking forward to working with the board in the various committees in the contract,” he said.
While the financial side of the agreement satisfied Clearview trustees, other details of the agreement concerned the board.
Checkel called the agreement “a leap of faith,” as new committees are introduced, but was encouraged with the education minister’s “commitment to make it work.”
Trustee Cheri Neitz was concerned the negotiated reduction of instructional hours by the ATA to 907 hours per school year might be a trend that could “continue to be pushed down.”
The province stepping in to legislate the agreement was of concern to the board.
“The edge of the wedge is in,” said trustee Karen Holoway, fearing the demise of local bargaining.
Trustee Yvette Cassidy said she was concerned with the enhanced control of the ATA.
She said the role of the school board is changing, but liked the compromise between all parties that would still see the school board “speak up for kids” and “hoped that voice would get stronger.”
“Diminishing board involvement” was a concern for trustee Rhonda Maginn, but she said supporting the province on the agreement lessened the chance of being amalgamated with another school division.
Trustee Peter Simons said he didn’t consider the 907 hours of instructional time to be an issue in any school.
He attributed the “impotence of the Alberta School Board Association,” which was “useless as negotiators,” to be a valid reason for the province to step in.
“The ship has sailed on local bargaining,” said trustee Patty Dittrick.
She said the agreement would “pave the way for students to be free of labour struggles” and would enable the board to “move on from negotiating to educating.”
Dittrick said she liked that the new agreement would allow teacher-quality to be addressed, “something the previous agreement didn’t.”