Q & A: Pandemic provides no budget relief for the ATA

April 28, 2020 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary


Question: Will the savings resulting from shutting down Alberta Teachers’ Association activities during the COVID-19 pandemic offset the potential need for a fee increase?

Answer: I’m afraid not. Provincial Executive Council and staff are continuing to attempt to identify efficiencies and opportunities for cost savings that will ensure that high quality services continue to be delivered to members while containing expenses. While these efforts will hopefully allow us to present to an Annual Representative Assembly (plans for which are still in development) a budget with a lower fee requirement than originally put forward, the fact is that members will still be asked to support a fee increase.

This may come as a bit of a surprise given that members will be aware of major Association events, such as the Professional Development Area Conference and the Teacher Welfare Area Conference, having been cancelled in response to recommendations made by the chief medical officer of health to limit in-person gatherings. Other events are likely to be similarly affected. However, these cancellations are occurring only after about 70 per cent of Association’s annual expenses have been accrued and paid out.

Also, in normal times, these events and other “discretionary” activities account for only about 30 per cent of the Association’s total expenditures over the course of the entire year. The other 70 per cent of Association expenditures are relatively inelastic, relating to salaries, fixed costs, transfers to subgroups, financing, taxes, building operations and maintenance, and the like. These expenditures cannot easily be reduced and the resulting bills need to be paid despite the unprecedented circumstances facing us, the province, the country and, indeed, the world.

The reality is that teachers are continuing to teach, even though students are not attending classes, and so the Association is continuing to provide support and services to its members.

The Teacher Welfare and Member Services program areas are having to deal with entirely unprecedented problems and are managing increased calls for assistance with matters involving collective agreements, employment relations, benefits, pensions, terminations, and occupational health and safety.

Staff involved in the Association’s professional regulatory function are continuing to respond to matters involving teachers’ professional conduct. As covered elsewhere in this issue, the Professional Development program area has pivoted to providing an extensive range of professional learning opportunities for teachers that are relevant to their current circumstances using innovative media and approaches.

Staff of the Government program area are involved in ongoing representation with the provincial education ministry and other stakeholder groups in the education sector while continuing their core communications and research functions as well as supporting operations.

So the Association’s work continues for and an on behalf of teachers, even if much of it is being carried out from the basements, spare bedrooms and kitchen tables of staff scattered around Edmonton and Calgary and around the province. Expenses continue to be incurred.

Ultimately, though, the need for a fee increase has relatively little to do with the expenditure side of the financial statements. Instead it is driven by the projected impact of a reduction in teacher numbers. When the budget proposals were being developed for consideration by members and their locals, they reflected a potential decrease of 1,500 full-time equivalent teaching positions with a resulting impact on revenues approaching $2 million.

Since those initial projections were made, the financial position of school boards is appearing to be even more grim than originally projected, with the province making real and substantial cuts in education funding. We must, therefore, begin considering scenarios that are even more bleak.

Association finance staff, senior leadership, elected officers and council continue to monitor and respond to the situation, and we will have a better sense of the demands being made upon us, and the resources available to meet those demands, over the next few months.

This is one reason why we must all continue our advocacy work with elected politicians and in the community to press for adequate education funding, but in the end it is secondary. The more immediate and important reason for such advocacy is to preserve the very fabric of public education and to maintain the capacity of schools and teachers to provide high-quality teaching and learning for Alberta’s students. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (dennis.theobald@ata.ab.ca).


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