No teacher layoffs for local schools

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Boards to tighten belts, run deficits to deal with cash crunch

A funding crunch in the education sector will not bring teacher layoffs to St. Albert schools, say local officials.

Some school jurisdictions in the province are planning to let teachers go because the province isn’t funding a teacher pay increase that’s due to take effect in September. Minister Dave Hancock has asked boards to run deficit budgets rather than cut teachers but some boards are still getting out the axe.

St. Albert’s Catholic and Protestant boards are both planning to deal with the funding shortfall internally without laying off teachers.

“We have a budgetary principle that they are our strongest asset in moving students forward on the learning agenda and we are retaining them,” said Catholic division superintendent David Keohane.

It will cost the Catholic division an extra $1 million to pay teachers their 5.99 per cent increase that is provided by an agreement with the province that ties their wages to the Alberta Weekly Earnings Index. A disagreement over the index calculation went before an arbitrator, who decided in the teachers’ favour earlier this year. Even so, the government’s spring budget only provided funding for a 4.82 per cent increase.

The Catholic board has been especially troubled because it lost money due to changes in the calculation of funding under the class size initiative, Keohane said.

The division will save about $300,000 by delaying the replacement of computer equipment. It will also save $200,000 by halving a contingency fund that provides additional money for students with complex needs.

The division will also use all its reserves of $1.4 million, Keohane said.

“We feel that it’s harsh and it’s adverse,” he said. “It’s perplexing to us that we have been hit as hard.”

The Protestant board will tap into reserves and three schools will run deficits to deal with the budget situation.

“We’re trying to cover that for one year,” said superintendent Barry Wowk. “But we only have enough to cover for a year.”

The situation puts the district in a position of uncertainty, a sharp contrast to the promise of the five-year deal between the province and its teachers.

“Instead of planning for the future, we’re trying to maintain and get through this year. To me that’s the unfortunate part,” Wowk said.

Alberta Teachers Association local president Ellen Snaith, who represents teachers in the Protestant district, said she appreciates the stand the board is taking in avoiding layoffs.

“I’m very gratified to hear that. I’m not surprised because St. Albert Protestant has put teachers and students first,” Snaith said.

She noted that Education Minister Dave Hancock hasn’t said that funding won’t be coming, just that it will take some time.

“We are in a period of trust. I think we have to believe what our elected officials tell us. I think we have to believe in our school boards,” Snaith said.

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