School board, union clash over length of school year

Petition seeks return to end of classes in early June


More than 400 Nunavimmiut signed a petition recently asking for the school year to end two weeks earlier than scheduled, but they shouldn’t make any holiday plans yet for June.

That’s because the Kativik School Board says it has no plans to revisit a decision taken by school board commissioners in 2004 to extend the school year by 10 days. Before 2005, the school year ended in early June, but with the addition of these 10 days, school ends closer to the end of the month.

The Northern Quebec union for teachers, l’Association de l’enseignement du Nouveau-Quebec, circulated the petition asking for a return to a shorter year.

The petition says the extension of the school year has too many negative effects: many teachers who attend teacher-training courses during the summer have little break time between work and the start of summer school; the rate of student absenteeism in the schools rises as June progresses; and success in final exams drops.

The union wants to add a few minutes a day to class-time during the year, and drop one planning day, so that school ends once again in early June.

But the KSB nixed a request by the union to support this position, criticizing the timing, language and tactics behind the union’s petition and request.

“You are… asking our elected officials to contradict themselves without acknowledging that this is the purpose of your letter, of which an Inuktitut version was not handed to the recipients, while, as you must know by now, many of them do not have a working knowledge of either English or French,” wrote Gaston Pelletier, the KSB’s director of educational services, to union president Patrick D’Astous, in a letter dated Jan. 23, which was obtained by Nunatsiaq News.

In this letter, Pelletier said the school commissioners in 2004 decided to lengthen the school year as a way of raising educational standards in Nunavik.

“You must realize that the increase in the number of educational days is only a first step,” Pelletier wrote. “We trust that we can count on your cooperation in the pursuit of these objectives.”

The Northern Quebec teachers’ union, which represents teachers in Nunavik and James Bay Cree communities, says a shorter school year would improve standards, not stretch them beyond their limits.

The main demand of its ongoing negotiations with the KSB and the Cree School Board is, in fact, for additional school resources, D’Astous said.

Yet the union is becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen since Quebec recently agreed to give southern school boards an additional $100 million. D’Astous said Nunavik may be short-changed: the new money from Quebec will go to hire up to 1,900 additional special support staff and teachers in the South, but Nunavik has no guarantees that it will receive the same level of additional funding.

“We want equity with the South — that is, the same amount of new resources per student in the North. We fear there won’t be equity, and, even worse than that, we’ll pay for the improvements,” D’Astous said.

The union also wants to see a special retention bonus for teachers who stay in the North.

Dl’Astous said the shortage of teachers in southern Quebec is already leading to an exodus of experienced teachers from Nunavik. D’Astous said this means the KSB has to hire more inexperienced teachers who may not even have the necessary qualifications to teach in Quebec.

According to an article published in La Presse, there are now five times more unqualified teachers in the province than there were in 2000. The KSB ranked second of all the school boards in Quebec for its number of uncertified teachers — a total of 49 in Nunavik.

How much success the union will have in getting more resources and bonuses for Nunavik is unclear. Negotiations with the KSB have already dragged on for three years, and the correspondence between Pelletier and D’Astous on the petition reveals some tension between the union and school board.

Last month, the federation of unions representing Quebec’s teachers in the South finally accepted an agreement-in-principle with Quebec for a new collective agreement. But this agreement only came about after its members were legislated to accept certain wage and working conditions.

In December, Charest’s government passed Bill 142, which legislated a seven-year contract on 500,000 hospital workers, teachers, civil servants, school support staff and other provincial public-sector workers. This law is supposed to apply everywhere in Quebec.

D’Astous believes the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement means that Quebec must separately meet Cree and Inuit needs.

“We’re in a grey zone,” D’Astous said. “The KSB wants to respect the government, but the government has to respect the JBNQA.”

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