The Minister of Education has said that the Association’s proposal would have disastrous effects for small schools in rural areas, including forcing school closures. Is the Association proposing measures that would force school closures?
It is not true that the Association proposal would result in school closures in rural areas or even in added costs for school boards. The claim is nothing more than fear mongering.
To begin with, caps on instructional and/or assignable time can be effectively managed by competently administered school boards. Northland School Division, which operates some of the province’s smallest and most isolated schools, currently has hard caps in place and functions well. Hard caps on teachers’ instructional and/or assignable time are also in place in two small francophone jurisdictions (CSFR du Centre-Nord No 2 and Conseil scolaire du Sud de l’Alberta). Clearly, rural school authorities operating small schools can make caps work if they choose to do so.
Where there are currently no restrictions on instructional time, the teachers’ proposal provides for reductions in assignable time to the provincial norm of 907 hours to occur over time. Teachers would expect that schools would make reasonable accommodations to help reduce teacher instructional load to the provincial norm. These accommodations might include adjusting bussing schedules or rearranging timetables or similar minor changes. In any event, students would continue to receive the access to instruction stipulated in the School Act and Guide to Education.
However, suppose it proved impossible for a school board to implement a limit on teachers’ instructional time at a school site—would the school board be forced to close the school?
Absolutely not. If such accommodations were to prove impractical at a particular school site or require changes to staffing or assignments that would be undesirable, then a variance would be granted allowing the board to exceed the norm (see section 3 f ii). The granting of variances would be administered by an exceptions committee composed of a teacher representative, a school board representative and a third party acceptable to both. Note that teachers would not control the exceptions committee. This element of the teachers’ proposal ensures that a school board could require teachers to provide instruction beyond the provincial norm if necessary to keep a school in operation.
Of course, it really isn’t the responsibility of individual teachers to ensure the viability of small rural schools. This is ultimately the responsibility of the Minister of Education. If he is concerned that small schools are at risk of closing, he might want to consider whether his department is providing adequate support to rural communities. Perhaps he could agree to the teachers’ proposal and then take advantage of the resulting four years of labour peace and cost containment to take a look at this problem.