Education takes hit after Alberta budget released

Submitted by Maria P. Lentz, STAR catholic trustee

Economically, times are tough in Alberta and that’s evident in the province’s budget released last month that anticipates a $4.7 billion shortfall. Unfortunately, education funding has taken some hits just as many provincial departments have.

The 2010 education budget was supposed to be a “status quo” budget, with an overall increase in funding of $43 million, to cover the greater number of students in the province’s schools. However, that status quo cannot be maintained. The budget was drafted without taking into consideration, a provincially determined increase in teachers’ salaries.

After the budget was written, an arbitrator ruled that the Alberta Annual Weekly Earning Index was interpreted to be 1.2 per cent higher than the Alberta government had determined before the budget was released. Teachers’ salaries are to increase, based on an increase schedule approved in 2007. This difference in the exact figure of the Alberta Annual Average Weekly Index Earnings amounts to $40 million. Because the budget was already released, the extra funding due to the discrepancy in the AAWEI, has left up to school boards to pay, rather than the Alberta government who made a five year salary agreement with teachers in 2007.

As stated, the burden of that $40 million lies with the school boards. With the provincial government not factoring the increases into their budget, Education Minister Dave Hancock has suggested that school boards should use reserves or run a deficit to make up for the shortfall, rather than making cuts to staff or programming. None of these options are ideal. Several schools boards around the province are bracing for cuts in their schools to make up for the shortfall. Minister Hancock has asked Treasury for money to cover the gap, but so far, he’s been unsuccessful and it’s unlikely that money will come. Without that funding, it will be difficult for school boards to make their present budgets work. The financial impact of the unsupported increased teacher salaries at the STAR Catholic division will be significant. Cuts and claw backs over previous years have left many school boards, including STAR, with depleted reserves, so running a deficit is the only option.

In other aspects of the provincial budget, Alberta Education will continue to give school boards funding to reduce class sizes, although the money will be targeted at reducing the size of kindergarten to Grade 3 classes. There will also be cuts in other areas including a funding that provided Daily Physical Activities to schools and a program that helped school improve their high school completion rate.

As your trustee, I would like to hear your feedback on the budget and how we can continue to keep our education system at its full potential with the resources we have available. Emails can be directed to maria.lentz@starcatholic.ab.ca