Friday morning I had a long chat with Jenny Regal who is the president of Calgary Public Teachers Local 38 of the Alberta Teacher's Association. I found Ms. Regal to be forthcoming, generous with her time and clearly passionate about her representation. Confessing the issue of teacher layoffs and budget allocations is a confusing and contentious issue with many players, she tried to explain some basic facts and steer a course for action that makes sense to parents.
One thing to remember is how hard it is to get straight answers out of the players in this scenario. Alberta Education handed down a budget to the school boards that is clearly missing increases in key areas. These increases (one of which was meant to pay for a Stelmach-promised raise for teachers) will be sorely missed by all boards across the province. The CBE is trying to make up the shortfall through spending their savings of $19M, running a deficit of $10M, and worst of all not replacing more than 300 staff members. The CBE is saying that Alberta Education hasn't followed through with reasonable funding and Alberta Education is saying that it’s not responsible for the CBE's poor fiscal planning.
At this point it’s hard to get facts and figures and guess what that will mean at the ground level in the classroom. Numbers in the media are widely varying. In March the Calgary Herald reported that the CBE had over $30 million in savings, now it’s $19. CBE has claimed that the worst case scenario would be a loss of 165 staff but also has reported that there will be up to 300 teachers leaving from attrition. Tough to get straight answers at this point.
Don Braid reported in the Herald
"It's shocking, for instance, that only 5,000 of the CBE's 12,900 employees are teachers. But the board proposes to cut 192 teaching posts and only 79 support jobs."Ms. Regal disputed these numbers, saying that over 7000 teachers work for the CBE and that the bottom line is the board was expecting more money than it received from Alberta Education. They have been left high and dry by a government that is playing shell games with money in hopes of staying ahead of a political agenda.
For the first time, the Calgary public school budget is over a billion dollars. Increasing costs, aging infrastructure, and wage increases all point to CBE needing more money. Ms. Regal pointed out that programming for special needs children hasn't received a funding increase in over 2 years, same with programs catering to ESL students - yet Calgary has more ESL students resident than any board in Alberta.
When I asked her for a clear direction for our thoughts/protest, she pointed out unequivocally that we need to tell our MLAs and our province how we feel and what's important to us. Our provincial government needs to know that we won't tolerate enormous class sizes or a degraded education for our children. When I asked if the funding shortage could be the fault of poor planning at the CBE, she stated that she is no budget expert and so that is a very difficult question to answer. She suggested we ask our trustee, which I've done and am still waiting for a call back.... Stay tuned.