Surprise! The Collective Agreement We Voted On Is Not the One We Got! Part Two: The New Systems for the Payment of Year-end Bonuses and for Department Heads

By Robert Green

Part one of this article focused on two of the ‘surprise’ provisions in the new collective agreement: the new system for calculating sick days and the new system for salary deductions. Part two will look at the new systems for the payment of year-end bonuses and for department heads. While the positive or negative implications of these four provisions may be debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that teachers were not given adequate information about these provisions prior to voting to approve the collective agreement. Further, since the contract came into effect last year teachers received no warning from their union that many of these changes were scheduled to be implemented at the beginning of this year. As a result, teachers have been scrambling to react to these changes without having a clear picture as to their implications.

New System for the Payment of Year-end Bonuses

Appendix XXVI of the new contract contains provisions for teachers to receive a year-end bonus by way of one of two provisions.

The first provision is referred to as “recognition supplements” and can result in a bonus of up to 8% (which as you’ll see in Table 1 below is nearly impossible). Borrowing the language of corporate reformers in the US, the appendix states that such supplements will be granted based on “value-added” for taking on additional responsibilities not described in the collective agreement and for supervising activities that are not part of the student timetable. It then outlines an elaborate credit system for different ECA’s (extra-curricular activities) that seems to be based on the principle that a half hour of ECA supervision will result in one credit. The credits will be approved by the school’s staff council and then sent to the board level committee that will prepare a report of each teacher’s credits that the board will use to disperse the funds by June 1.

The second provision is referred to as “incentive premiums” and can also in theory result in a bonus of up to 8%. These are intended to be dispersed for the following reasons:

  • To recruit and retain qualified or experienced candidates
  • To facilitate assignment to positions deemed difficult
  • To recognize exceptional situations

Again, like the recognition supplements it is the school’s staff council that recommends to the school board level committee how such premiums will be dispersed.

According to Le Devoir, the nine English school boards will have $333,000 to disperse this year and amounts surpassing $2 million for each of the two subsequent years. The board level committee decides what portion of these funds is to be used for recognition supplements and incentive premiums. At the September meeting of the MTA reps assembly, MTA President Ruth Rosenfield stated that the EMSB intended to keep 10% of the money it receives for this program. There is no provision in the appendix allowing school boards to do this. The only funds the appendix explicitly allows school boards to deduct are those they have had to spend on grievances stemming from this appendix.

To put these numbers in perspective, Table 1 indicates the amount each teacher would receive if the amounts were distributed equally between the 8000 (approximately) QPAT members based on different levels of government spending. Keep in mind that the amounts below reflect the total amount for both ‘recognition supplements’ and ‘incentive premiums’

Table 1: Average amount distributed to teachers of Quebec’s English school board, based on different levels of government spending.

Total amount offered by government

$333,000 (actual amount for 2011/2012)

$1,000,000

$2,000,000

$3,000,000

Average amount teachers will receive

$41.63

$125

$250

$375

Considering that 8% of a teacher’s pay on step one of the salary scale is $2983.84, it would seem next to impossible for any single teacher to even come close to receiving that amount. Such a scenario would involve large numbers of their colleagues receiving nothing. Even in the extremely unlikely event that government were to spend $3 million a year funding this program (more than they have actually committed to); the average teacher would not even come close to receiving an 8% bonus, let alone the 16% which is in theory possible through a combination of recognition supplements and incentive premiums. Given the ridiculously small amount of money involved, one has to wonder how much of an incentive this really is and whether the hours lost setting up the elaborate system for calculating this pay will even be worth it.

While it is certainly a good thing that teachers in Quebec’s English school boards are being recognized for some of the unpaid work they have been doing, the question for the members of QPAT’s executive committee is why they agreed to such a poorly funded and bureaucratically cumbersome process rather than demanding that we be compensated for ECA’s exactly as our colleagues working for the French school boards have been for years. In the French school boards ECA’s are considered part of a teacher’s workload so that taking on ECA supervision results in reductions in other elements of a teacher’s workload such as teaching time or supervision. When one compares the possibility of a reduced workload for the entire year with the possibility of receiving a cheque for a few hundred dollars (if that), it seems hard to imagine a teacher not opting for the system for ECA compensation existing in the French school boards.

The fact that this system puts teachers into direct competition with one another to get this funding has many teachers worried that it will result in a less collaborative and a more divisive atmosphere amongst teachers. The question of which teacher deserves more of this money has a great potential to have a very unhealthy effect on a school’s staff culture. If teachers begin to perceive that the money is not being distributed in a just fashion, they may in fact end up supervising fewer ECA’s than they are now. One has to wonder if this money would not have been better spent on providing teachers some of the resources and support they and their students so badly need.

New System for Department Heads

Section 8-13 of the new collective agreement contains provisions allowing school boards the option to create department head positions in schools. This provision was to come into effect at the beginning the 2011/2012 school year. It allows for department heads to have their teaching load reduced by up to 50%.

Initially this seemed like a pleasant surprise to most teachers. Since the compensation of department heads was removed several contracts ago, teachers have been aware of the inconsistencies existing from school to school. At some schools department heads have been compensated monetarily while at other schools it has been voluntary or in exchange for reduced presence periods. As a result most teachers welcome the notion of bringing more consistency and fairness to the system for compensating department heads.

However, after looking closely at the wording of the contract, teachers are beginning to raise serious concerns. For example, section 8-13.04 states that “The partial release of a department head who is appointed at the elementary level cannot have the effect of increasing the workload of other teachers in the school.” This sounds great except that it only applies to elementary schools. No similar provision exists for secondary or adult/voc ed. schools meaning that the partial release of department heads at these levels can result in an increased workload for other teachers in such schools. This is hardly bringing consistency or fairness to this situation.

Another concern being raised has to do with the new powers department heads are given. In previous contracts, before provisions for department heads were eliminated, department heads were clearly defined as coordinators. They were not in a hierarchical position over their colleagues. While section 8-13.03 outlines responsibilities related to coordination of the department, it also gives department heads certain powers vis-à-vis their colleagues. For example, clause c) of this section gives department heads the responsibility of participating in the evaluation of a teacher on probation. Clause d) of this section gives department heads the power to determine the department’s needs with respect to instructional material.

One concern about these clauses is that if implemented they would create a kind of grey zone for department heads. Are they coordinator colleagues or are they quasi-administrators? That said, many teachers support this aspect of the agreement. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the members could have had an informed debate about this when voting on the agreement? It will be interesting to see whether or not school boards even implement this provision at all.

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