04/27/2017 11:25 EDT | Updated 04/30/2017 10:26 EDT

Alberta teachers say tentative contract addresses their key concerns

EDMONTON — The head of the Alberta Teachers' Association says a proposed contract devoid of pay increases addresses the main concerns of time and workload.

Mark Ramsankar says the deal puts a cap on the amount of time teachers can be assigned to non-classroom duties such as staff meetings, supervision and staff-development days.

"Time is the No. 1 priority and we heard that from teachers around the province going into this round (of bargaining)," Ramsankar said Thursday.

"Now that we have this in our (tentative deal), we hope to continue to build on that."

The province and association announced Wednesday that they had reached a tentative two-year contract for 46,000 teachers spread over 61 jurisdictions in Alberta's public, Catholic and francophone schools.

The deal, which would be retroactive to Sept. 1, does not include any pay raises.

The preceding four-year deal had three years of frozen salaries followed by a two per cent raise in the last year and a one per cent lump-sum payout.

Ramsankar said the government was steadfast at the bargaining table on a salary freeze. He suggested teachers appreciate that low oil prices have put Alberta's finances deep into the red.

This year's budget deficit is forecast at $10.3 billion.

"We've done our fair share but we also understand the economic climate in Alberta," said Ramsankar.

Workload concerns revolve around how much time a teacher spends directly in the classroom, along with lesson preparations, marking and grading and speaking to parents.

A workload study found that other indirect duties, such as staff meetings, were eating into that time and exacerbating existing problems such as larger class sizes.

The deal proposes continuing the existing cap on direct instructional time at 907 hours a year along with a ceiling of 1,200 hours a year for the indirectly related assigned teaching duties.

A study done in conjunction with bargaining reported that Alberta teachers work on average 48 hours a week during the school year and 2,016 hours a year. It also found that over half a teacher's time is spent on work outside of instructional duties.

School board representatives are to vote May 24 on whether to ratify the proposed deal.

Teachers will do so online between May 11 and May 14.

This is the first contract bargained by Alberta teachers with a new group called the Teacher Employer Bargaining Association, which is made up of representatives from government and some school boards.

The two sides are tasked with hashing out overarching issues, such as salaries and workloads.

If this deal is ratified by majorities on each side, some benefits and issues unique to each region are to be worked out at the board level.