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ATA agreement will have impact on rural schools

Posted on May 30, 2017 by 40 Mile Commentator

ATA agreement will have impact on rural schools
The Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) recently came to an agreement with the government on a renewed employment contract for teachers across Alberta. This deal is retroactive to September 1, 2016 and runs through to August 31, 2018.
There are thousands of excellent teachers across Alberta. The vast majority of these individuals go above and beyond to ensure that our children receive both an excellent education and opportunities to engage in a variety of extracurricular activities. The new deal imposes a cookie cutter approach which does not respect the differences between a rural and urban school. In short if the school suffers and ceases to exist it will have serious negative implications for the community at large.
The new agreement between the province and the ATA will cap instructional hours at 907 hours per teacher each year and total assignable time at 1200 hours per year. Assignable time includes supervising lunch hours and recesses, coaching sports teams, arranging and organizing concerts, attending parent teacher interviews, and running extracurricular student clubs. This means that teachers will only be allowed to spend 293 hours over the entire school year on these important tasks. While this cap may work for urban schools it does not work in a rural setting.
Rural school boards understand the importance of field trips and work experience programs. They recognize that teachers have always gone above and beyond for students and work hard to keep the culture of the school positive. What will happen to the school spirit and student morale if important programs are cut or if football, basketball or other school activities are no longer offered?
When a rural school teacher attends a tournament it often means leaving on a Friday at noon and not returning until Sunday night. If the teacher does not volunteer their time for the trip this would mean they burned through 54 hours of assignable time attending one single tournament. There simply will not be enough assignable hours to run all of the extracurricular activities that benefit rural students and parents. If no teacher wishes to volunteer their time to prepare for a Christmas concert or to coach a basketball team, these options may not be available in many schools.
The hard caps on both instructional and assignable time do not respect the reality of small schools distributed across Alberta which may have only two or three teachers. Many rural school boards have experienced a decrease in funding from last year and these hard caps only magnify what is already a challenging environment. Urban schools and rural schools operate in very different circumstances.
So what does this really mean for rural schools?
* Less time for teachers to prepare
* Fewer programs offered to students
* More small school closures
And, while the government and the ATA are very proud of their new deal, we remain gravely concerned about the implications for rural schools.

Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster
Wayne Drysdale, MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti

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