EDMONTON — The Alberta government is slashing this year’s education budget by $80 million as the province grapples with a record $7 billion budget deficit.
Education Minister Dave Hancock outlined details of the cost-cutting measures in a conference call Thursday with the province’s 62 school boards.
“The province needs to find $430 million this year fiscal year and make a $2 billion correction for (next year),” Hancock told a telephone news conference Thursday.
“The ministries have been asked to find savings to offset the projected revenue shortfall.”
The minister said $56 million will come from school boards and the rest from changes to school support programs, including one that helps with the cost of fuel for school buses.
The rest of the savings would be made within the education ministry.
But about half of the total savings, or $44 million, will be achieved by clawing back money that school boards were given in the past but have yet to spend.
Hancock calls this surplus money, while the school boards argue it is simply being set aside to pay for projects already approved or staff that have yet to be hired.
He also warned school boards to prepare for significant budget cuts next year as the province scrambles to trim $2 billion from its growing deficit.
Both the union representing teachers and the Alberta School Boards Association say they’re worried about what next year’s cuts will mean for both students and jobs.
“My fear is the bigger cuts are yet to come,” said Heather Welwood, president of the Alberta School Boards Association. “But at some point we need to prioritize.”
“We’re talking about young people and our future in this province,” said Welwood. “How far do we look to other sources to help school boards out so the students aren’t the ones to suffer?”
The teachers’ union is cautioning that deep cuts will have a negative impact on classrooms.
Carol Henderson, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, said major cuts would almost certainly mean lost jobs and seniority would protect many of the older teachers.
“There would probably be cuts to teaching staff and that’s always our young teachers,” said Henderson.
“We want our young teachers, they revive the profession, they’re going to be there when we have a lot of teachers retiring,” she said. “So it would be unhealthy for the teaching profession to lose a lot of beginning teachers.”
l The Alberta government is imposing a wage settlement on teachers after months of wrangling over a new formula used to determine salary increases.
Education Minister Dave Hancock says the teachers will get an increase this year of 4.82 per cent — not the nearly six per cent that the union says is justified.
Alberta teachers have a deal with the province that guaranteed five years of labour peace in exchange for making annual wage adjustments based on average earnings in the province.
The deal is tied to the Statistics Canada average weekly earnings index, but the national agency recently changed its method of calculating this figure and that’s where the dispute began.
Under the old formula, this year’s wage increase would have been 4.82 per cent, while the new formula would push the wage hike to 5.99 per cent.
The Alberta Teachers Association says the difference is $23 million, so they are challenging the minister’s ruling and now want to force the contract settlement into arbitration.