March 8, 2016
MTS President Norm Gould has responded to a Brandon Sun editorial that suggested teachers were overpaid.

In a letter published March 8, Gould points out that teachers are not receiving what the newspaper described as “excessively high salaries.”

Gould’s complete response is below.

As the representative of 15,000 professional teachers across Manitoba, I take great exception to your editorial on “The elephant in the classroom: Teacher Pay”.

Currently, the Brandon School Division:

  1. is clearly in the throes of a healthy growth spurt, with 158 more students reporting this year alone, and at least “142 new students” next year,
  2. is in 24th place out of 38 school divisions in teacher salary ranking this year,
  3. wants to give Brandon students “all the opportunities you should afford them” as one area property owner recently said, and
  4. would have needed at least 14 more teachers just to reach the provincial average in regular instruction this year—according to Manitoba Education accounting (FRAME)—never mind anticipated enrollment growth for next year.

So, rather than targeting overworked teachers and questioning their worth on the front lines of education, why wouldn’t the Brandon Sun encourage a different kind of community dialogue: One that looks for continued ways to meet the real challenges of Brandon’s schools, students and teachers.

The question Brandon citizens and taxpayers really need to ask themselves is “why would the BSD even consider cutting nine more teachers after a more extensive cut of 11 teachers last year?”

Lamenting the potential loss of 20 educators over two years in the face of strong enrollment growth is natural because it imposes serious challenges on the remaining staff members and program delivery.

Traditionally, teachers have been the shock absorbers of the public school system. But their ability to absorb has limits. How can programs not suffer when there simply aren’t enough qualified teaching staff to go around? How can educators be effective, if their bucket of duties, responsibilities and paperwork is overflowing?

Besides these obvious oversights, there are fallacies and factual errors in your editorial that simply must to be addressed.

You mention that a full 85 per cent of the BSD’s budget is “eaten up” by salaries alone. “Eaten up”—really? Education is a highly people-intensive endeavour. Why wouldn’t salaries compose the biggest share of the budget, similar to the health care, police and emergency services systems?

In fact, teachers account for only about 50 per cent of an average school division’s budget. Do you also begrudge the salaries of bus drivers, school crossing guards, maintenance and facilities workers, cafeteria personnel, guidance counsellors, clinicians, and countless others in the public school system—not to mention the superintendent, and stipends for board chairs and trustees?

We assure you that in public lists of positions with “excessively high salaries” as you put it, you’ll see CEOs, bank presidents, maybe even lawyers and surgeons, but you’ll never see public school teachers.

Keep in mind that salaries for teachers and other organized workers are, almost without exception, freely negotiated between their unions and the BSD—both of whom are active participants in the process. It’s not compulsion, it’s negotiation.

As for arbitration, in roughly 196 collective agreements negotiated by teachers and divisions province-wide from the year 2000 to the present, only nine, or less than five per cent, went to arbitration.

In short, contract negotiations are settled mutually and salaries meet the market test.

As for low scores on international tests, our Manitoba students’ results differ because our conditions differ. The levels of disparity in poverty, demography, and migration are acute in Manitoba. And Brandon’s conditions reflect those of other large urban school divisions.

Let’s get back to budget matters.

We understand the BSD uses Regional Health Authority data to forecast births when budgeting. The weakness there is that those births don’t anticipate growth from migration into Manitoba from people returning from Alberta oil projects or even the welcome influx of migrants to the province.

Also, according the 2015-2016 FRAME budget, the Brandon School Division was spending about $1,400 per child below the provincial average, last year. Brandon residents should ask themselves if they are satisfied that every child in their school division would receive at least $17,000 less than other Manitoba children over the course of their K-12 education. This could explain large class sizes, and fewer program options for students.

That there are important issues to discuss within the Brandon School Division, there is no doubt. That people on the BSD board, in the schools and in the communities want to do their best to meet the needs of our students, is a given.

But it’s simply not productive for the Brandon Sun to continue scapegoating teachers and refuse to recognize that the students we value so much need more support, not less.