Editorial: Talk to your MLA

February 26, 2013
Jonathan Teghtmeyer

The week of February 10, the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) launched a campaign to encourage school boards to lobby their MLAs (see “School boards to lobby MLAs,” page 4). The ASBA wants boards to urge their MLAs to strip collective agreements of teachers and impose on them a legislated settlement.

I’m heeding the ASBA’s advice and sending my MLA the following e-mail, and I’ll follow up with a personal phone call.

To my MLA:

I am writing to you as a teacher in Alberta who is proud of our ­province’s outstanding public education system. However, I’m concerned that our world status is at risk. In recent years, we have been recognized internationally as one of the top public education systems in the world. Worldwide, experts see Alberta as enjoying a model education system and attribute our success to the outstanding teachers in our schools. I agree!

I am happy with the relationship that the teaching profession has ­developed with the government since 2007. Our relationship has ­benefited from labour peace and stability in our schools. We’ve also discussed how to make our great system even better. Inspiring Education has allowed us to collaborate on a vision of where our education system needs to go next. Unfortunately, I’m worried that the promise of Inspiring Education will not be delivered. Furthermore, I believe we could lose what we have already.

Although I understand that the government is concerned with the province’s “bitumen bubble” and the negative effect of low oil prices on the deficit, the fallout should not result in insufficient funding in the upcoming budget that forces cuts in education that jeopardize our future. In last year’s budget, Premier Redford promised to maintain stable and predictable funding for schools and promised a 2 per cent increase in grants to school boards for 2013. I expect her to deliver on her promises. If the premier doesn’t deliver, then more students will enter our schools without sufficient funding to support them and our classes will balloon.

As it is, classes are overfilled. Colleagues tell me they are teaching classes with more than 35 students—even in elementary grades. Many of these classes have students with unique needs and learning challenges. Teachers say the increased demands of these complex classes and additional tasks assigned to them by principals and boards mean they don’t have time to prepare adequately for instruction.

Teachers have been working with the government to resolve these issues. Last December, when tripartite discussions with the government, the ATA and the ASBA concluded, it was revealed that teachers offered to help the government with its fiscal concerns if the government addressed teachers’ conditions of practice. Now, the ASBA is asking the government to impose a legislated settlement on teachers that would worsen our conditions of practice. Stripping teachers of conditions of practice and legislating a settlement could lead to instability and unrest here, similar to what was experienced in Ontario.

I am hopeful, however, that the government will work with the Alberta Teachers’ Association to establish a provincial agreement that respects teaching conditions. Alternatively, the government could support local bargaining. Supporting local bargaining means ensuring that school boards have the funds to find solutions and settle agreements. It means rejecting meddling in agreements and rejecting ministerial approval of an agreement before ratification. It means giving teachers and school boards time to discuss the issues and find solutions that work for their communities.

In closing, I hope you will discuss my concerns with the minister of education and colleagues at the legislature. Your assistance and support will ensure that Alberta has stability in education and that we can continue to improve the system.

I urge you to contact your MLAs. School boards are talking to them and if we don’t, then that will be the only message MLAs hear.

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.