Nova Scotia Teachers Union says government 'has done enough' to avoid strike

The Education Reform Act was introduced Thursday and will dissolve the province's seven regional school boards by the end of the month. It also compromises on some contentious issues.

Liette Doucet says union will 'hold them accountable,' but takes illegal strike threat off table

Flanked by teachers and other union members, Liette Doucet said the government had made enough changes to avert a strike. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says it will not hold an illegal strike over planned education reforms introduced Thursday by the McNeil government that will axe regional school boards but which also compromise on several contentious issues.

"While the government has done enough to avert job action, they have still much more to do to improve our public education system," union president Liette Doucet said Thursday afternoon at a press conferenace at NSTU headquarters in Halifax. "We will hold them accountable."

Doucet praised the Liberal government's decision to not create a college of educators to oversee teacher training, certification and discipline, or a central department of assessment, which she said would have "created more unnecessary bureaucracy" and wasted resources.

The Education Reform Act will dissolve the province's seven English school boards by the end of the month. It will also remove principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisors from the NSTU, but in a show of compromise will allow them to remain affiliated with the union.

While job action is averted, Doucet said the NSTU does not support the legislation. 

"While administrators will keep their affiliation to the NSTU, the collegial model will be damaged and I fear this could bring more conflict to our schools," she said. "Teachers are also genuinely fearful of the chaos the elimination of English school boards will bring to the entire system."

Teachers protested outside the Nova Scotia Legislature earlier this week. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The bill will also create two education acts: one for English-language schools and one for francophone schools, as represented by the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial. 

The bill is based on recommendations outlined in a recent report from education consultant Avis Glaze, which saw teachers respond by giving their union an overwhelming mandate for illegal job action. Doucet said that mandate "was key" in getting the government to reconsider some of the reforms.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Education Minister Zach Churchill said meeting with teachers and principals over the last few weeks was "enlightening" and led to changes.  

"For the teachers and principals who have been concerned, they will see their voice reflected in here," Churchill said.

His key takeaways from those discussions included the lack of buy-in for a self-regulated professional college and concerns about the ability for principals and administrators to go back into the classroom if that's what they wanted to do.

Instead of creating a college of educators, the government has agreed to work with the union to develop teaching and leadership standards.

"We listened to the rationale and agreed we would move [ahead] without it," said Premier Stephen McNeil. "I think we've compromised in what's in the best interest of the system and in students."

Education Minister Zach Churchill speaks to reporters after the Nova Scotia government tabled a sweeping omnibus bill aimed at overhauling the province's education system. (CBC)

The government is also creating a provincial advisory council of education, comprising 15 members representing all regions of the province. Two executive director positions are being created within the Education Department to represent African-Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq communities.

Local voices will be preserved through school advisory councils, the government said, which will receive funding to respond to local priorities. 

As part of dissolving the English-language boards, a one-time $2.4 million payout will be made to elected board members to cover their stipends through to the end of what would have been the current term.

Government officials said the elimination of elected boards will save $2.3 million annually, which will go back into the school system. 

New administrators association

A new administrators association — which will represent principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisors and comes into effect on Aug. 1 — will pay dues to the NSTU but won't have the right to unionize, take job action or file formal grievances. It affects about 1,000 people.

If a principal, vice-principal or administrator returns to teaching, he or she will be able to move back to the union and vice versa. Their seniority will continue to accrue under this arrangement.

No member of the association will be able to teach more than 50 per cent of the time, something that will require the hiring of 25 to 30 new full-time equivalent positions, Churchill said.

Administrators will continue to participate in all benefit and pension plans and receive any pay increases union members receive. Beginning in February 2019, the association will be able to consider every two years whether to remain affiliated with the union. 

One other change included in the bill will see the fine increased for the union in the event of illegal job action, going up to $100,000 from the current $10,000, a move that brings the NSTU in line with regulations for other unions.

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