Classroom sizes to shrink under new teachers’ contract

Teachers will see smaller classroom sizes and bigger salaries, in a new collective agreement struck with the territory. Teachers will get a 5.75 per cent wage increase over the next three years.

Teachers will see smaller classroom sizes and bigger salaries, in a new collective agreement struck with the territory.

Teachers will get a 5.75 per cent wage increase over the next three years. Right now, teachers make between $61,210 and $97,845 a year, depending on what category they’re classified in, their experience and education.

Kindergarten classes will be reduced to 18 students, from 20. Classes in grades one to three will drop to 22 students from 23, and grades four through seven will have space for up to 25 students instead of 26.

Classroom sizes were reduced to help teachers meet the growing needs of their students, said Katherine Mackwood, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association. Teachers are seeing more students with diverse learning abilities and needs, including intellectual disabilities like autism. This makes teaching difficult, especially if teachers don’t have enough additional support, she said.

Each school will have to decide if it will need to create new classes or make split-level classes depending on enrolment, said Mackwood.

Classroom sizes in high school will remain the same, with 26 students maximum in grades 8 and 9 classes and 28 students for the higher grades.

“The employer wasn’t interested in looking at the entire system,” said Mackwood.

The new deal also gives the government flexibility to increase the school year by 30 hours. Half of those hours would be spent in the classroom, with the rest used for teachers’ development. This will mean students spend 950 hours in the classroom a year.

Education Minister Scott Kent plans to bring amendments forward to increase the school year this spring, he said. He’s also considering changing the school calendar so all schools start classes at the same time, he said.

If approved, the changes would come into effect for the 2013-2014 school year, he said.

More time spent with teachers will improve students’ education, he said. And giving all schools a common start date will make it easier to provide distance education across the territory, he said.

But the teachers’ association was critical of how the department originally wanted to make these changes, said Mackwood.

The proposed changes to the Education Act can only be made after consultation with First Nations governments, teachers and administrators, school councils and parents. This process needs to begin within 10 years of the act being approved.

The Education Act was last reviewed in 2002, said Mackwood.

The government wanted to make changes to the school year without doing a proper consultation, she said. But the teachers’ union didn’t want to be part of that process.

“We’re not going to take part in an end-run against our First Nation governments, our school councils. They need to be a part of these changes,” she said.

As a compromise, the union and government signed a letter of understanding that would make sure teachers still get proper payment if the school year increases, she said.

The department did not try to make changes without proper consultation, said Kent. It didn’t want to start consultations on the act until the teachers’ contract was finalized, he said. The review process will begin this weekend with meetings with school councils, he said.

The teachers’ new contract also includes the creation of an action committee that will give recommendations to the department about the number and type of special plans for students. The committee will meet three times a year and include teachers and administrators, members of the Department of Education and different deputy ministers.

The teachers’ new contract is retroactively effective from July 1, 2012 and expires on June 30, 2015.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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