Staff of Chinook’s Edge School Division and school board members were represented at an Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) meeting on Friday afternoon in regards to the provincial government’s proposed legislation – Bill 8.
In late November the provincial government rolled out the potential legislation known as the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act. The bill would see a two tiered bargaining system for Alberta’s 38,000 teachers formed. With one level serving contextual issues on a school board level and the more ‘hot ticket items needing negotiation, such as salaries would be redistributed to a new bargaining platform at the provincial level.
Superintendent of Chinook’s Edge School Division, Kurt Sacher, who was in attendance at the ASBA meeting on Friday, explained from their perspective it appears the provincial government was most interested in ‘labour peace’ when introducing the bill.
“Overall they are interested in labour peace – they want to see things done appropriately in a fiscal reality that respects school’s staff members they value so greatly – in this particular case, teachers,” said Sacher adding for the last nine years the province has enjoyed labour peace thanks to ‘long term provincial agreements’.
“It has allowed us to focus on what matters most, which is a quality learning environment in the classroom for children and young adults,” said Sacher explaining prior to that nine years there was a cycle every year or two where boards and teachers would go through a very difficult negotiating process. “That can create a very difficult learning environment for young people and for the adults charged with their care. Anything you can do to move forward with labour peace and in having a good healthy relationship between the board and teachers – the more likely we are to really serve the needs of the young people in our care.”
“I don’t know how it will play out at this time – it really depends on how they [the provincial government] move it forward. From our boards perspective they were pleased to see that some of the key items would be dealt with provincially instead of locally,” Sacher explained. “On the same token, they [school boards]would loved to see more consultation on the specific details of how Bill 8 is actually implemented and certainly through ASBA their voice has been heard and some specific amendments have been heard.”
Following the meeting on Friday, it was announced an amendment would be made to Bill 8 based on school boards’ collective input, ASBA President Helen Clease advised the Education Minister that the boards needed to be at the provincial bargaining table and involved in the negotiations.
Clease said “school boards needed a voice in this first round of negotiations, and I am pleased to see the Minister taking steps to ensure this happens. While we would still like to see other changes, we look forward to working with the government in authentic partnership to strengthen the role of local school boards in this process.”
“We had proposed further changes to the scope of central bargaining,” added Clease. “The structure and operation of TEBA and the cost implications of the bargaining process. While there are outstanding issues, we have emphasized to the Minister and the department the importance of school boards working with the government as the Act is implemented and regulations are developed.”
President of the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA), Mark Ramsankar, noted in a open letter that the Association has called for bi-level bargaining since 2002.
“The government has committed to taking an active role in bargaining—it is vitally important that the funder be at the table,” said Ramsankar. “The Association will work with government and school boards to create an effective bargaining structure that will meet the needs of teachers, students and the public.”