Provincial funding to cover a possible increase in teachers’ salaries remains up in the air, but school boards are happy that at least enrolment growth in September will be covered.
An arbitrator’s report on wages for teachers throughout Alberta is to be completed by Sept. 30.
“If it came in at one per cent or two per cent, if it’s not funded, that would be a significant costs to boards. It’s really a big question,” said Kurt Sacher, superintendent at Chinook’s Edge School Division.
On Monday, Finance Minister Travis Toews said enrolment growth will be fully funded for the upcoming school year.
Sacher said that was great news, but it answers just one of the questions around education funding for school budgets.
“We’re just moving ahead with our best guesses. We’re being relatively conservative,” Sacher said.
Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said school boards are proceeding far too cautiously based on the assurances of government.
“Both the premier and the minister of education made statements saying that funding will not be reduced. It will at least be the same as the previously year, or possibly increased,” Jeffery said.
“(School jurisdictions’) staffing has gone far too slow and they are making reductions that might not need to be made. Boards should be taking the government at their word and dealing with their staffing accordingly.”
He said provincewide bargaining for teachers’ salaries is included in legislation, and led to a mediator recommending arbitration. Representatives from government, school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association are part of the bargaining process, so government has a responsibility in regards to the arbitrator’s decision, said Jeffery.
“Certainly (government) could decide not to fund it. That would be, I believe, a hugely unpopular decision looking at the voters of Alberta,” Jeffery said.
Bev Manning, school board chair with Red Deer Public Schools, said funding enrolment growth is just reasonable and rational. Capping funding at the current amount would not take enrolment increases or decreases into account.
Red Deer Public has about 11,000 students and runs a $125-million operation annually. It anticipates 150 more students in September, which would result in additional revenue of $1.3 million.
The district said without those extra dollars, it would have been a significant challenge.
The government has yet to say whether it will fund specific initiatives, such as the $15.5-million school nutrition program to provide free, healthy meals to students.
Manning said it would be difficult to run that program without government funding, so it may have to be re-evaluated.
“We have lots of community people who really step up to the plate to try and help. We’d probably fall back on some of that to try and fill in some gaps if they were to discontinue that funding,” Manning said.
— With files from The Canadian Press