The Alberta government has decided to cover a looming teachers’ pay increase, a surprise move that will relieve some of the pressure on cash-strapped school boards in the province.
Facing a string of multibillion-dollar deficits, the Province initially decided to delay financing the 2.92 per cent increase it negotiated with teachers - worth about $66 million - telling school boards they’d have to pay for the Sept. 1 wage boost.
School boards across the province were outraged, with some warning the change in funding would lead to teacher layoffs.
“We are pleased the government came through and met their commitment,” said Heather Welwood, president of the Alberta School Board Association.
“It allows school boards to rebalance their budgets and rehire staff they may have let go.”
On July 7, Hancock announced the government’s improved financial situation has prompted Alberta Education to make the funds available sooner than expected. Two weeks ago, the Alberta government revealed last year’s deficit was $1 billion, down from a forecast shortfall of $3.6 billion.
“Our commitment was always there. It was just a question of time frame,” Hancock said.
“There should be no layoffs of teachers or support staff….”
The announcement is a mixed blessing to some education officials, who welcome the money but now must rewrite budgets. The chair of Rocky View Schools Sylvia Eggerer said she is happy with the additional funding, but some stress could have been avoided if the Province had made a move earlier.
“I am pleased financially, because it has been a stretch for our schools and administration to make this work,” she said.
“It would have been nice to know about this sooner, but when we are working with almost 85 per cent of our budget for staffing, this makes a big difference.”
Rocky View Schools cut administration and other costs to avoid any teacher cuts in its $150.3 million budget, released in May. The division reduced school services from 4.9 per cent to one per cent.
“This hopefully will wipe that out and make sure we are maintaining (the services) we had last year,” said Eggerer.
She hopes the funding will mean more money for support staff and special needs.
“We could not run our school division without our support staff,” she said.
“They have been so gracious to help us out in this time of need. It would be nice if we could do something for them. We are run really lean and this is going to help get us through and make sure we can treat our employees properly.”
Welwood said the Provincial funds only cover the teacher salary increase and staff levels will remain status quo.
“There will not be an influx of new people over last year,” she said.
“In fact, the school boards that had lower enrolment will have to let people go despite this (money).”
Welwood accredited the Province’s change of heart to community members.
“Community meetings were very fruitful,” she said.
“The Stelmach government listened and put education as a priority in their budget. It is important that the community gets involved with these discussions.”
Eggerer said she is glad Hancock was able to convince his peers to support education.
“The fact that they came through with this commitment makes it look good on them. They stepped up and did what they said they were going to do,” she said.