Alberta school boards 'divided' over tentative agreement

The association representing school boards across Alberta says it hopes a "comfort" letter from the government will help band them all together in ratifying a tentative agreement with the province.

'Comfort' letter created to address the concerns identified by school boards

Education Minister Jeff Johnson says he could legislate a deal with teachers but the province isn't at that point yet. (CBC)

The association representing school boards across Alberta says it hopes a "comfort" letter from the government will help band them all together in ratifying a tentative agreement with the province.

"Based on the response I can tell you that ours is a house divided," said Alberta School Boards Association president Jacquie Hansen in a statement.

"Several school boards are prepared to accept the deal as proposed; others have written to advise they are accepting most reluctantly and asking that the association work hard at securing a 'comfort' letter from government to address some fundamental concerns and still others have written to say they are not willing to accept this deal as proposed."

Hansen said association staff has been working hard with the provincial government to draft a comfort letter for signature by Premier Alison Redford and Minister of Education Jeff Johnson with a goal of addressing the concerns school boards have identified.

She said the government is prepared to sign-off on the letter if all 62 school boards and union locals agree to the four-year deal.

But Hansen said ASBA won't make any recommendations on whether boards should accept or reject the contract proposal for teachers.

Support varies

On Thursday the Calgary Catholic School District joined Edmonton Catholic Schools in supporting the deal.

"I think it is fair to say there is a diversity of opinion and thought on this agreement provincially. I can only answer on behalf of Calgary Catholic," said board chair Mary Martin.

"Again, after some lengthy conversations and discussions, we do believe we can move forward on this."

But the Edmonton Public School Board and Calgary Board of Education does not support the four-year agreement reached by the Alberta's Teachers Association and Alberta Education.

The Catholic boards say that while they do have some reservations about the deal, they believe any concessions are worth four years of labour peace.

Alberta's education minister says the deal is very much alive, despite two of the largest school boards publicly announcing their opposition.

"We've got to give boards a little bit of time to digest what this is," said Johnson.

Frustration over negotiating process

"And we're sending out our field people to work with each board to make sure they've got a good understanding so they can make an informed decision, and the ones that have reservations about it or concerns about it we're going to try to help them work through that," Johnson added.

The agreement, which freezes teachers' wages for three years and gives them a two per cent increase in the fourth year, was reached last week between the province and teachers union without the participation of school boards.

Johnson says he understands that some boards may resent not having been involved in the negotiation process but hopes that they will be able to find a way to support the deal.

"There's a lot of frustration and there's some anger from school boards over the negotiating process — that each one of the 62 boards couldn't be at the table, it's just not logistically possible."

The province could still legislate the deal if an agreement isn't reached by the May 13 deadline, but Johnson says the negotiations are not at that point yet.