Calgary public school trustees rejected a tentative contract proposal for Alberta’s teachers Wednesday, joining a growing body of opposition to the deal.
The verdict made public Wednesday after a Calgary Board of Education private meeting Tuesday had the potential to throw a heavier wrench into efforts to solidify an agreement for 35,000 instructors in the province.
“Based on our analysis, we conclude this is not a good deal for students,” read a prepared statement from Calgary Board of Education chair Pat Cochrane.
Reached later in the day, Cochrane listed a new ‘exceptions’ committee that would give teachers the ability to seek a third-party review of decisions made by teachers and superintendents as well as potential hidden costs in the contract as top concerns.
“To be honest, the agreement isn’t clear enough to even understand — right now no one can tell us what the costs may be,” Cochrane said.
The province already committed to a zero per cent funding increase for school boards over the next three years in its budget released earlier this month. The CBE has said any freeze in funding actually amounts to a cut, as they must continue to compensate instructors moving up the salary grid.
Edmonton’s public school board, the second-largest in the province behind only the CBE, rejected the contract Tuesday.
Education Minister Jeff Johnson said Wednesday he was surprised with the verdicts and planned to follow up with trustees in the coming days.
“I am not sure what they object to,” he said. “The deal is substantively the same as the proposal of February 20, with the exception it is less money for them — it is less costly for them.”
Johnson was referring to a one per cent cash incentive for teachers that would have been funded by boards if teachers had signed the February deal; however, ATA executives unanimously rejected it.
Two rejections of the contract is as many days came as a surprise to local representatives with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, who had already seen the deal recommended to them by provincial executives.
As well, officials with the Alberta School Boards Association had recently said that the contract actually posed greater challenges to rural boards, who may face rising costs associated with the commitment to a cap on instructional hours for teachers by the 2014-15 school year.
But Johnson claimed the financial commitments Premier Alison Redford and he negotiated in the contract were “certainly better” than what boards would have been able to work out in local bargaining.
One ATA local already voted in favour of the contract late Monday, said Calgary Public Teachers’ Association President Frank Bruseker. He added that the ATA Calgary chapter planned to set a date for a vote during a meeting late Wednesday.
But Bruseker added he was troubled but a number of statements made in Cochrane’s letter addressed to Calgarians, including a concern “the proposed agreement concentrates much of the decision-making for student learning in the teachers’ union.”
“They’re making some pretty direct comments and I would say this kind of letter is not helpful,” Bruseker said.
He added the letter had been emailed to all Calgary teachers and he’d already begun fielding complaints Wednesday afternoon.
But Cochrane said she wasn’t worried about local relationships being impacted. She added a “one size fits all” approach may not work for Alberta school boards.
“I think what we hope for is that we maybe do a little bit of a restart on the conversation,” she said. “We don’t have a broken system — we have an excellent system.”
The Calgary Catholic School District met to discuss the teacher deal Wednesday; however, it had not publicly released a position. A spokesperson said they expected to offer more information before week’s end.
— With files from Ryan Tumilty