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Pension plan to cost Yk1 $400,000
New collective agreement comes with hefty price tag for school board, which will seek GNWT funding help

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Teachers for Yellowknife Education District No. 1 will have a little added security come retirement after the board approved a four-year collective agreement last week.

The latest agreement alters the teachers' pension plan to provide them set amount at retirement depending on years of service and age. The switch will cost an additional $400,000 a year bringing the 2014 budget to $32.1 million.

"It is different from the contribution plan that they had before, when they bought an annuity for a certain number of years," said Gayla Meredith, president of the NWT Teachers' Association (NWTTA). "Now it's a defined plan where they're guaranteed an amount at retirement, which was big for our teachers and education assistants."

In October, 96 per cent of Yk1 teachers voted 97 per cent in favour of the new agreement. Last week, during Yk1's monthly board meeting, trustees voted unanimously to accept the new agreement.

The contributed plan that was in place before was an arrangement in which the employer and employee both contributed a certain amount, which was then invested. When the economy took a downturn, investments lost their value and the NWTTA started pushing for the defined pension plan, according to Yk1 Chair John Stephenson.

"Teachers have been interested, determined, and assertive about getting a defined benefit plan," Stephenson said. "This (new plan) is a great benefit not only to staff but to their dependents into the long term."

The cost of the new plan, Stephenson said, will be shared with the territorial government.

"We won't be funding that just within Yk1, but asking the GNWT to increase their contribution and provide us with equity with other NWT school boards," he said.

The pension plan, however, comes at a cost to teachers. As of this year, teachers will no longer have their sabbatical leave benefit. Sabbatical leaves allowed teachers to take a year off for professional development without risk of losing their position while receiving a percentage of their salary.

In the new agreement, Yk1 teachers also will not receive a pay increase retroactive to September 2013. A one per cent salary increase will be applied for September 2014, September 2015 and February 2016. In the previous agreement, which was ratified in May 2009, teachers received a four per cent increase for the first year of the agreement, 4.25 per cent for the second year, 4.5 per cent for the third year and five per cent for the fourth year, according to a NWTTA news release from 2009.

"I believe the increases are lower, however, we've developed a defined pension plan," Meredith said. "I think the priority was to gain that plan for the teachers."

Yk1 was the last school district in the NWT without a defined pension plan. Yellowknife Catholic Schools put its defined plan in place in February.

"YCS (before February) and Yk1 were the only school boards in Canada that weren't providing teachers a defined benefit plan," Stephenson said. "Now we're on par with everyone else."

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