Education minister seeks quick solution to teachers contract
Lukaszuk wants financial figures before the budget is set
By: By Ryan Tumilty
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 06:00 am
Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is looking for negotiators working on a contract with the province's teachers to reach a quick resolution.
Lukaszuk is asking the Alberta School Board's Association (ASBA) and the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) to swiftly resolve a proposed new three-year contract so that it can be included in the upcoming budget.
The ATA and ABSA, along with Alberta Education, have been working on the new deal that will replace the current one set to expire in August. A deal reached between those two groups would prevent any piecemeal negotiations between the ATA and school boards on a one-to-one level.
Lukaszuk said he wants a deal quickly so he can include the financial implications of whatever they resolve in the upcoming budget.
“I have to go before the treasury board because the budget will be tabled in the first week of February in the legislature for debate, but I need to know how much the ask should be because I need to know how much the system will cost.”
Lukaszuk said he wants to develop a three-year plan for education funding that will give school boards certainty and remove them from the shocks the provincial treasury often feels because of oil price fluctuations.
He said to do that he needs to know the cost of teacher salaries because that is by far the biggest component of education costs.
“If I am going to give Albertans and the system predictable funding then I need to know what the salaries are because that is 80 per cent of my budget.”
Lukaszuk said if the two sides don't come to an arrangement before next week he won't have a choice but to set the number himself.
“If they don't come to a deal and they don't tell me what the cost to the system is, than I will have to decide for them what the costs to the system will be,” he said. “I would rather request what the cost truly is rather than me mandating what I think the cost should be.”
Reports emerged this week that the two sides may be considering relatively small salary increases in the new deal with a freeze in the first year, but the trade-off would be limits on teacher work hours.
Lukaszuk didn't want to speculate while the negotiations were still ongoing, but said he was committed to making sure Alberta students wouldn't lose instructional time.
“I will never negotiate the face time that students have with teachers,” he said. “I have been very clear that I will not agree to anything that could in any way diminish the quality of education that kids receive.”
Lauri-Ann Turnbull, chair of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, said the board isn't directly involved in the ATA negotiations.
“We know that our people are working hard and … they are telling us that we should be optimistic.”
She said she wasn't sure how the board would react to reduced teaching hours, but they do believe students do better when they receive more instruction.
“I don't want to get into speculation until we absolutely know what is happening,” she said. “Our division would always feel that it is in the best interest of kids to have teachers teaching in front of them.”