Q & A: Government needs to deal with education growth despite falling revenues

January 13, 2015
Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: With oil prices falling through the floor, will teachers soon be paid in wheat and chickens?

Answer: There is no question that falling oil prices are causing severe difficulty for projected government revenues. An operating deficit is now forecast for the 2014–15 provincial budget. Planning is extremely difficult when oil prices are unstable.

There is no question that big storm clouds lie ahead. Education Minister Gordon Dirks has suggested that we will all need to be creative in the months ahead, as government addresses a huge revenue shortfall and makes plans on how best to proceed. It is particularly difficult in the education sector, where teachers are in the third year of managing no salary increase and increased workload.

With no education grant increases of note, teachers’ conditions of professional practice have steadily worsened since 2012. The notion that conditions of professional practice would now get even worse is entirely unpalatable for teachers. The fall of 2015 will see the first salary increase in four years.

While government decisions ahead will be extremely difficult, it is important to note that the education sector continues to grow rapidly. Approximately three per cent more students showed up for class this past fall than in September 2013. Our member count, even in the face of no grant increase, is significantly higher. More families are coming to Alberta and there need to be schools — and might I say teachers — to meet their learning needs.

Internally, the Association has been dealing with very high call volumes and service demands. We have many new members, many members in transition, very high numbers of maternity leave and increasing numbers of teachers challenged by their conditions of professional practice.

We are monitoring the fiscal situation very closely and more information will be provided as it becomes available. ❚

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