The Lethbridge public school board trustees like the certainty that would come with the province's proposed framework agreement with teachers.
"Basically our board is in favour of the agreement and we're certainly aware of the possible pitfalls," said Mich Forster, chairman. "The benefits, as we see them and which are pretty much spelled out by almost everybody, are that we will have three-plus years of labour peace. We're well through the first year."
The agreement would provide stability and salary certainty while the alternative would mean yearly local bargaining. And with zero per cent increases for the next three years and a two per cent increase and one per cent bonus in the fourth year, having the guaranteed funding for those increases is important.
School districts will also see some savings because the one per cent lump payment to be paid by school boards in the government's February offer has been removed.
"It allows us to maintain the positive relationships that we have with our ATA local and our teachers," he said.
On the flip side, Forster said trustees are concerned about the uncertain situation that will be created if the agreement fails to be ratified.
In addition to the need for guaranteed funding, trustees also had initial concerns about the definition of instruction. The new framework agreement would introduce a 907-hour instructional time maximum per year starting in 2014-2015.
"Basically it's a soft cap because for us, we're under the 907 in almost every area in our district and we believe we could get under it without a huge amount of difficulty," he said.
Alberta Education Jeff Johnson clarified instruction in a letter received late Tuesday, Forster said. Briefly, the definition of instructional time is face-to-face time spent with children for the purposes of teaching and assessing children's achievement of outcomes. Staff meeting time, prep time, playground and hallway supervision, parent-teacher interviews and special events are not included in the 907-hour limit.
"The definition is one that we can live with," Forster said.
As a soft cap on instructional time, Forster said his understanding is that it would be negotiable, although it could become binding if the issue went to the provincial exceptions committee. Local jurisdictional committees that allow teachers and their employers to discuss areas of concern can refer matters to that committee.
"We've had a working conditions committee in our district for many, many years and it has really worked well for us. It has dealt with a lot of the things that we believe would come under the new committee," Forster said. "It's our hope that we would be able to work well with our Local. We've had extremely positive relationships with our Local and our teachers over the last many years," Forster said.
The school board will deal with the framework agreement formally at its next board meeting next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Holy Spirit Catholic school district trustees are recommending the Alberta School Boards Association reject the provincial agreement, a decision they reached at a special meeting Tuesday night. In a news release, the trustees indicated the primary reason was the "flawed nature of the negotiation which left the Alberta School Boards Association sidelined from the discussion around the agreement."
However, trustees have not yet decided to accept or reject the agreement within their division. The board has until May 13 to ratify.