Note: This story was updated Dec. 12 to reflect new information that emerged after the print edition was distributed.
Both the provincial government and the Calgary Board of Education have “completely mishandled” the situation that has resulted in teacher layoffs being announced then reversed, said Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling.
“They have conducted a fight in a very public domain. They should be better at their jobs,” Schilling said.
Just one week after the CBE announced that 321 temporary teacher contracts would be terminated due to budget restraints, Alberta Education announced it would allow all school boards to allocate up to 50 per cent of their Infrastructure and Maintenance Renewal (IMR) grant to staffing. To access the funds, school boards are being asked how much of their reserves are also being used to avoid layoffs and what other cost-reducing measures are being implemented.
Schilling sees the move as an admission by the government that the fall budget fell short of fully funding education.
“In actuality there is a shortfall of $275 million, which has now resulted in job losses,” Schilling said.
The CBE took immediate advantage of the one-time IMR offer and applied for $15 million to help offset its $32 million shortfall. Then, at a Dec. 10 meeting, the board announced that this cash infusion has allowed it to rescind the termination notices sent to 317 temporary contract teachers.
The handling of the situation doesn’t sit well with Schilling.
“It’s irresponsible for our government, who should be looking after the well-being of Albertans, to make teachers go through this roller coaster of emotions,” Schilling said.
The Calgary board wasn’t the only division facing layoffs. Divisions across the province are facing layoffs to make up for their funding shortfalls. Many other school boards are avoiding teacher layoffs by dipping into their reserves.
Bob Cocking, president of Calgary Public Teachers Local No. 38 sees the IMR grant assistance and reserve dipping as a short-term solution to chronic underfunding.
“This is a temporary measure,” said Cocking. “Not a solution.”
The funding situation has left many teachers upset, anxious and worried about their future, said Cocking.
“Those emotions are turning into anger,” he said.
Cocking noted that the anger is directed primarily at the government, not the school board.
“I’m very concerned about what we’re hearing back from the ministry,” said Cocking. “Their feeling is the CBE has a big budget, they’re getting the same funding and they should be able to fix things themselves.”
Concern for students
Approximately 150 teachers attended a special information meeting held on Nov. 25 to address the potential CBE layoffs. Schilling joined Cocking at the meeting to provide information about what to expect in the coming weeks.
Teachers began to share their concerns not only for themselves but for the students who will be facing incredible upheaval in the new year.
“The teachers were upset,” said Schilling. “Some were crying because of the effect it will have, actually more on their students and not necessarily on themselves.”
Schilling says the recent layoffs are a symptom of a much larger funding problem.
“And who’s caught in the middle?” asks Schilling. “Students and teachers, and I think this public fight was an unfair way to for both the school board and the ministry to behave.
As reported in the Calgary Herald, LaGrange said the funding move is a response to boards’ desire for flexibility.
“I have heard from school boards that they want flexibility in funding and in other areas of education,” LaGrange said, “so this is a year where they can access that additional flexibility.”
Both Schilling and Cocking have heard that the government may introduce a new funding model in the new year. They hope it will address the funding needs for enrolment growth, class size reduction in the lower grades and support for inclusion. ❚