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How raises above inflation fuel education costs

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Manitoba's public school teachers are making four or five times the current rate of inflation.

Statistics Canada reports that the inflation rate between November of 2008 and November of 2009 was 0.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, every school division contract in Manitoba has a basic pay raise of three per cent, and the vast majority have annual cash bonuses of as high as $550 -- an overall raise ranging from about 3.6 per cent for teachers at the top of the salary scale to more than four per cent for rookies.

The Manitoba Teachers' Society says that Louis Riel teachers -- who signed a deal for the current school year guaranteeing they'll match the best rate anywhere in the city for each level of qualification and years of service -- are getting 4.82 per cent this year.

Teachers' salaries are the primary reason that the cost of operating the public school system this year has gone up by 4.2 per cent -- wages and benefits make up about 85 per cent of an operating budget, and the predominant employee group is making three per cent, plus increments, plus cash bonuses.

Uh-oh, the secret cameras we install in our software to allow us to see you as you read this blog, are showing MTS staff members springing to their keyboards to denounce this as yet another attack on teachers.

Sigh.

Please, check everything I've written about salaries and bargaining, and find anywhere -- anywhere -- that I've said teachers don't deserve the money they're getting. They have five years of university these days, they spend their summers upgrading, they get masters' degrees, most teachers I know put in way more than 50 hours a week.

Go ahead, have a good look. I don't mind waiting, I'm writing this on company time, I'll just sit here at my desk and surf the web while you do some research.

Pause.

OK, back to the subject.

We're discussing why the cost of public education goes up the way it does, not whether teachers deserve what they're being paid. I'm not saying this isn't money well spent, I'm saying that this is the biggest factor in explaining why the costs of public education exceed inflation.

Winnipeg School Division is one of half a dozen school divisions now without a contract. I know that there's a union ratification vote going on -- neither side will say what it's seeking or offering, but WSD and its teachers settled for three per cent in the five years ending June 30, 2009. Meanwhile, pretty near every other bargaining unit in Manitoba was getting three per cent, plus cash, and/or some catch-up provision with neighbouring divisions. Some increases were phased-in over the course of a year, which adds compounding.

The Winnipeg Teachers' Association website points out to its members that they've been traditionally among the lowest-paid in the city, and that they've usually been on par with teachers in Louis Riel.

I've received an email from a WSD teacher who says that the WTA is voting on an offer that is nowhere near being on par with Louis Riel. He/she also goes into some detail about my coverage of teachers' wages, the gist of which is that I am an unprincipled bottom-feeding scum, all of which he/she wants printed as a letter to the editor, but without his/her name being published.

Sigh.

When I wrote about the potential impact of WTA/WSD bargaining a week or so ago, the story elicited 88 comments on our website, including one from Colin Fast. I deal with Fast very cordially in his day job, but he's better-known publicly as a byelection candidate in WSD last year. I'm only drawing attention to him now, because Fast is so unusual in not only always being civil in what he posts on the web, but actually uses his name when he posts comments, and takes personal responsibility for what he says.

But I digress.

Education Minister Nancy Allan says she won't consider province-wide bargaining until both the teachers and trustees want it. The Manitoba School Boards Association says it's lost enough local autonomy and decision-making already, and clings to local bargaining.

Teachers originally moved up to three per cent early in the last decade, because Mystery Lake school board in Thompson felt it needed to offer more than the two or 2.5 per cent of recent years, in order to attract teachers north. But that quickly became the norm, as teachers everywhere know that once one bargaining unit achieves a raise or benefit, then everyone else can cite it in arbitration.

And hey, I'd do it too, in their situation, and I'm confident you would too.

So now you have divisions which feel they need to catch up with their neighbours, or get ahead a bit, in order to retain and recruit teachers, so they add cash, or improve benefits, or both. Some divisions are starting to add to the scale of increments, adding another year before teachers max out. Teachers talk about the professional development package in one division compared to another, an incentive which costs money but doesn't get tacked on to the salary scale.

A teacher who's put in five years of university to get an undergraduate degree and an education degree, and who has 10 years of teaching experience, earns around $76-to-79,000 a year. Within two years, every teacher in that category will probably be making more than $80,000 a year, and $100,000 is certainly within sight this decade, at current contract terms.

And despite the steady decline in enrolment, Manitoba has added 136 full-time equivalent teaching positions in the last two years.

You can learn oodles more than you're ever likely to want to know about teachers' contracts, by checking the school boards' and union's websites at:

http://www.mbschoolboards.ca/whatwedo/documents/Teacher%20Salary%20Settlements%20Update.pdf

http://www.mbteach.org/collective-bargaining/salarysettlements.html

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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