Q & A: Turbulence ahead in education

April 7, 2015 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: What’s your take on the provincial budget? Will the budget ­protect “frontline” jobs?

Answer: The Progressive Conservative government’s 2015/16 budget will protect frontline jobs in the fall of 2015, but it is a disastrous budget for education. Teaching positions in schools will be guaranteed, except in the case of falling enrolment, but central office positions (including supports for teachers) and teachers’ assistants are not protected and cuts will occur. These are positions that teachers rely on, and they are very much necessary to achieve student learning needs.

In addition, there is no funding for growth, and Alberta is anticipating 2 to 3 per cent growth each year in the school system. Given that growth does not occur equally in every school jurisdiction, the government’s refusal to pay for growth will have a much more dramatic impact on urban and suburban school boards. Boards with stable enrolment, most typically rural boards, will still have a challenging budget, but urban and suburban boards will have much more difficulty, and the impact of the budget will be even greater in those jurisdictions.

The effect, for the 2015/16 school year, will be the loss of teacher supports across the system. Teachers’ assistants and central office teachers, the individuals across the system who provide support for students with special needs, English language learners, etc., are the most vulnerable in this budget. Of course, the government is pitching the budget as if the protection of frontline jobs will mean that the system is not impacted by spending reductions. The government will also proclaim that it is spending more money in education (it is), but the funding does not reflect the significant and continuing growth of students. Heavens, there will be new schools in some parts of Alberta and no new teachers to fill the schools.

As bad as this scenario is, the 2015/16 budget, and the multi-year plan of government, also make clear that there will be no funding for inflation and no funding for growth in 2016/17 and 2017/18. That’s right. No money for inflation and no money for growth. Class sizes will get much bigger, especially in urban areas, and teacher supports will continue to be reduced.

Meanwhile, the government is reviewing its approach to public sector bargaining. I expect that the government will establish an agency to collect data that may be helpful for bargaining. I also expect that the government will want to participate in the bargaining in our sector, which will require new legislation.

The shape and nature of such a structure is completely unclear, but Premier Jim Prentice has certainly been clear that public sector salaries are too high and will need to be brought into line, that there will be tough bargaining ahead, and, it appears, that the government will want to participate in that tough bargaining rather than being the funder of school boards.

To devise a new system of collective bargaining in our sector, introduce and pass legislation, and develop regulations in time for collective bargaining to commence in 2016 will be a true challenge.

So hold on to your hats. There will be much turbulence ahead. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).

Also In This Issue