EDMONTON — Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice is criticizing the provincial government for failing to build schools, for alienating teachers and for how it has handled the curriculum.
“We have to take action to address the shortage of schools, a shortage of schools that is nearing crisis proportions in many of our communities,” Prentice told 800 people at a breakfast speech Thursday.
“I have met, at this point, thousands of parents in my travels across Alberta, and I have yet to have one parent approach me who is preoccupied with changing how the profession operates or the disciplining of teachers.
“What they are concerned about is getting classrooms (and) getting schools opened.”
Prentice said he’s hearing too many distressing stories of children working in portables and gymnasiums, siblings forced to go to different schools, lotteries for kindergarten spaces and students taking long bus rides even though a school is just a block away.
“We are better than this,” said Prentice. “We can’t wait any longer. We cannot delay any further.
“If I am entrusted to serve as the leader of this party and the premier of this province, our government will move forward with pace and with purpose to increase the number of schools.”
Former premier Alison Redford promised two years ago to build 50 schools and modernize 70 more by 2016 to deal with a population growing by more than 100,000 a year.
Since then, no actual construction has started on any schools, and last week Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale confirmed that 19 new schools won’t be done by the 2016 deadline.
They have been delayed because the province could not strike a cost-effective cost-sharing deal with private developers. The province is now going it alone to build all 50 schools.
Prentice said he would reprioritize capital infrastructure spending to accelerate construction.
“We will get shovels in the ground.”
Prentice also raised a report delivered to Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s last month.
The report urges teachers be independently evaluated and disciplined. It says the Alberta Teachers’ Association is in a conflict of interest by trying to both represent and discipline educators.
The department is evaluating whether to implement the recommendations.
The teachers association has called the report a blindside attack and an attempt to undermine the union’s effectiveness.
Prentice said he would look at the report, and promised that he would “work in a respectful way with teachers and the ATA.”
He said he would be guided by input from educators — and more importantly from parents — in all things relating to the curriculum.
“It is my belief that the people who truly know what is in the best interests of school children are their parents.”
Prentice would also appoint a “senior minister” to the education portfolio and would “oversee the work of that minister” and “be a complete pain in the neck.”
Johnson’s department has come under fire from parents, math professors and opposition critics for abandoning math fundamentals and rote learning.
The minister said recently the department will update the kindergarten to Grade 9 math curriculum to make sure memorization, rote learning and mastering multiplication tables are stressed.