Even though school boards have been told they won't be getting any extra money for salary increases in Budget 2013, that doesn't mean teacher layoffs are inevitable.
Alberta School Boards Association president Jacquie Hansen was reported to have said school boards may not be able to deal with the financial constraints any other way but local school officials don't foresee that yet.
"I guess we're still hopeful that the money will be there to allow us to maintain staff and programs," said Mich Forster, chairman of the Lethbridge public school board. "It's way too soon to be talking that way; we still have a long ways to go in our negotiations."
The Alberta Teachers' Association has the bargaining ticket for its locals and can veto any deal while the 62 school boards in Alberta hold the bargaining ticket with their locals.
Education Minister Jeff Johnson has told trustees that any deals they negotiate need to include three years of wage freezes and a maximum of a two per cent increase in the fourth year because that's the funding they'll be working with from government.
"Minister Johnson and the Government of Alberta is the funder of the education system so he is simply. . . outlining to school boards how much money they have to work with," said Kim Capstick, Johnson's press secretary. "He wants them to be able to have that information as they sit down with the provincial ATA to know how much money they have to work with so they can bargain in good faith."
If a school board with enough surplus funds wanted to offer its teachers a raise the Education Minister couldn't prevent it but the school board would need to fund the increase on its own going forward.
"Arguably they would need to make sure they had that in reserve from here on out because it would be a permanent salary increase and that's not something that any school board has the kinds of funds to do," Capstick said. "The Minister wanted to make sure that school boards understood that they are going to be funded for their salary aspects at zero per cent and that any funding they may get that is targeted should not be going to compensation."
School boards rely on government for all of their funding and boards are expected to be prudent financial managers. And that's definitely on the minds of trustees.
"We don't have a big surplus and we will stay within our means," Forster said.
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division chairwoman Sandra Dufresne was not available for comment.