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Concerns over cap on assignable time likely not to come to fruition in new agreement with teachers

Posted on June 7, 2017 by Taber Times

By Nikki Jamieson
Taber Times

The latest agreement between Alberta teachers and the province will not endanger any school clubs, teams or groups for students according to the Horizon School Division superintendent.

The Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) voted 78 per cent in favour of the two-year agreement with the Alberta government in an online vote in mid-May. With the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association having ratified the agreement late last month, the contract will come into effect Sept. 1, in time for the 2017/18 school year.

One thing that was a cause for concern was changes to time restrictions. Although there is no change in the amount of instructional hours — a teacher can be at the front of the classroom for a total of 907 hours a school year — there is now a cap on assignable time, for a total of 1,200 hours per teacher per school year.

“As an employer, we can only put teachers in a classroom in front of kids for 907 hours, and then we can only assign duties to them for a maximum of 1,200 hours,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent for Horizon School Division. “In the previous agreement, we had the option of asking for an exemption, and we had a couple of schools that were exempted, whereas now, there’s no exemption.”

But for parents worried that will mean the end of extracurricular activities at their children’s school, rest assured that it will not come to that. Activities where a staff member volunteers their time, such as drama club, weekend football tournaments, marking papers at home, planning a class at home or volunteering to do professional reading or learning, are not considered to be assigned time activities, as the teacher in question is volunteering their free time to do it.

“Teachers will do all kinds of things that are not at the direction of teachers, or of principals,” said Tymensen. “All those things that are under their control are not part of that 1,200 hours.”

“Look at football as an example; a volunteer football coach might put in 500 to 1,000 hours of coaching with kids. And so if it was at the direction of the principal, you couldn’t even have them teach, because all they would be doing is coaching. Certainly, for a lot of those things, it reiterates the fact that teachers are committed to enhancing the culture and the life of the school and the community.”

Assigned time is for activities in which the school’s principal tells a teacher to do this activity, at this time and at this place. This includes, but is not limited to, teaching in the classroom, staff meetings, parent-teacher interviews, recess or before/after school supervision and division-wide professional learning days.

This creates the concern of keeping track of the 1,200 hours for each teacher, which Tymensen called a “step backwards for the teaching profession”. This could cause a problem at the smaller schools in the division, who have a small number of teachers. While ten minutes at recess doesn’t seem like a lot of time, if almost all of a school’s teachers are out supervising everyday, it can add up. Combined with other activities such as staff meetings and division professional learning days, you run the risk of using up that time pretty fast. Should a teacher run through them too quickly, they run a risk of not being able to be in the classroom before the school year is over.

“It’s about counting hours. For example, if a teacher or a principal was not paying attention, and they assign too many hours to a teacher and it’s June 1, and they’ve reached 1,200 hours, legally, we wouldn’t be allowed to have that teacher in the classroom for the last month. I don’t think that’s certainly in the student’s best interest, and certainly in anyone’s best interest.”

However, Tymensen says he believes that scenario will not happen.

“Teachers for years and years have gone above what’s expected of them. I certainly don’t believe that teachers are suddenly going to be looking at counting hours.”

The division will be looking over their current practices with schools to determine who their current practice fits with the new policy and how to best amend their practice for it.

Tymensen said that there was a lot of things within the agreement that would have “little impact to us” as there is no change, citing pay as an example. Much like previous three-year contract, there is no pay increases in this contact.

Changes have been made to the grid payment structure for teachers however, bringing it up to date with current education requirements.

“A lot of grids were built on five years of education, so you could have one, two, three, four, five years of education. What they’ve done is removed the first three years of education,” said Tymensen. “In todays world, you have to have a Bachelor’s degree to teach, so that’s a minimum of four years. So we really have nobody on our teaching grid who would only have an one-year diploma, whereas 15, 20 years ago, certainly there was people who were still working without a Bachelor’s degree as a teacher, because in the past, you didn’t require one. You only needed a college diploma, as an example.”

Additionally, a change was made to the way premiums were allocated to teachers going on maternity leave. Previously, they had to pay those premiums while on leave, but now, they don’t need to pay until they’re back at work.

The agreement features a $75 million classroom improvement fund, with Horizon receiving about $500,000. The division will be forming a committee to work with the ATA to decide how to best spend the money.

“It’s certainly a positive from our prospective, that we have some enhanced opportunities for meeting the needs of students.”

With the collective agreement between the ATA and province ratified, all that’s left if for local bargaining to begin, with the agreement being integrated into over 60 individual agreements between the different school divisions and the ATA. Horizon has 60 days to initiate negotiations and meet with 30 days of initiation to begin negotiations, or by Aug. 23 at the very latest.

As it says in the agreement the changes take effect Sept. 1 2017, and it can take from a month to a year to come to an agreement, it is safe to say that Horizon would like negotiations to begin sooner then later. However, Tymensen says it might not take as long as it usually does.

“Normally it lasts several months, but I would say as well, the way that they’ve structured it, where there’s a whole bunch of clauses that are centrally negotiated, and way less that are negotiated locally, I assume the local bargaining won’t be as long as it has historically been.”

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