Alberta teachers have ratified a tentative two-year agreement with the government and school boards.
The 46,000 members of the Alberta Teachers' Association voted 78 per cent in favour of a deal that includes no new raises and a $75-million "classroom improvement fund."
Teachers voted online during the past four days — a nerve-wracking few days for teachers' association president Mark Ramsankar. At meetings with teachers, he heard both positive feedback and concerns about the agreement.
"It can go any direction when you're talking about this kind of thing," he said Monday.
More than 13,000 teachers voted on the deal, which is just shy of a third of association members.
The agreement covers from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2018. For the first time, it includes a provincial cap on the number of hours school boards can require teachers to spend in classrooms, meetings or supervising students.
The agreement also includes a "me too" clause that would compel the government to extend any future raises for health-care and government workers to teachers, as well.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci said in a short written statement he is happy with the support for the agreement from teachers.
“This is a good deal for students, teachers, and Alberta families," Ceci's statement said. "Our partners recognize that government is bargaining in good faith and we are certainly pleased with this initial result.”
The $75-million classroom improvement fund for the 2017-18 school year will allow schools to hire additional teachers, aides and pay for training or equipment when classes have many high-needs students. Each school board would strike a committee to decide how to spend the money.
"Teachers haven't realized a wage increase in five of the last six years. But the conditions in our classrooms have eroded to the point where they placed the $75-million classroom improvement fund ahead of anything else," Ramsankar said.
The classroom improvement money will be divvied up based on student enrolment. Edmonton Public Schools will receive $10.6 million, the Calgary Board of Education $13 million, and Edmonton Catholic Schools $4.6 million.
Representatives from school boards must also vote to approve the tentative agreement May 24 before it becomes final.
Thanks to new legislation from 2015, this is the first time Alberta teachers have negotiated big-ticket items at a central bargaining table. If the contract is approved, association locals will begin bargaining local issues with individual school boards.