‘Alberta insulted school boards’

The provincial government insulted school boards and the people who elected them in seeking a deal for the province’s teachers, said the president of the Alberta School Boards Association on Monday.

The provincial government insulted school boards and the people who elected them in seeking a deal for the province’s teachers, said the president of the Alberta School Boards Association on Monday.

In a speech to 335 delegates representing 59 school boards on Monday, Jacquie Hansen said the province did a disservice to Albertans and violated the trust of local boards. The ASBA is meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Red Deer.

“After building a strong relationship with school boards and acknowledging the value of local decision making, this government violated our trust and, in doing so, certainly compromised any respect that existed,” she said.

The ASBA had been involved in the bargaining process to get a new deal for teachers for more than two years, but were left out of the final negotiations.

The Alberta Teachers Association, which had earlier walked away from the tripartite talks, ended up negotiating a deal directly with the government.

That agreement fell short of receiving the required unanimity from Alberta’s 62 school boards, leaving the government to legislate a retroactive four-year deal for educators.

“It is truly unimaginable to bargain without the employer at the table, but this is exactly what happened,” said Hansen.

“It is not our deal. It never was our deal.”

Despite the “offensive” process, the ASBA will work with the government going forward in administering the pact, said Hansen. With the new agreement and tight budgets, though, she said “we don’t know if services are going to be exactly the same.”

While Hansen will not be continuing her presidency beyond the fall’s local election season, she said a new bargaining model is needed for the next negotiation period.

“We believe that the voice of school boards has to be there, not only as employers, but as voices of the community. We have a gripe with the process, which we found to be offensive.”

Despite the fact that 61 of Alberta’s 62 boards approved of the deal negotiated without the ASBA earlier this year, Hansen said many did so reluctantly, feeling cornered. The Red Deer Public School board ratified the agreement, which featured only one salary increase and one lump sum payment for teachers, by a 4-3 vote, but spoke out about the process.

Board chair Lawrence Lee said for future negotiations, he hopes the ASBA will take a stiffer stance on promoting local governance models to the province.

Red Deer Public trustees supported a motion at the ASBA conference on Monday that would have called on the government to create a school board-controlled employer bargaining association that would take over the bargaining certificate for deals from the ATA. The motion failed, however, with the four Calgary and Edmonton school boards opposing it.

Lee said the motion represented a shift back to local autonomy that he thinks is necessary.

“In the 125 years we’ve been a school jurisdiction, we’ve always had positive relationships with our teachers. We’ve always been able to work and negotiate in their best interests,” he said.

Education Minister Jeff Johnson was scheduled to address the conference on Monday night.

The gathering continues today with a focus on the arts in education.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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