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Q & A: Boards are being overly cautious with their budgets

June 11, 2019 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: I’m a probationary teacher and have just been told that, although my first year of teaching was successful, my board won’t be offering me a continuous contract because they are uncertain what the government intends to do about funding in the next school year. Why has this happened and what is my current status?

Answer: I am terribly sorry to hear about your situation and understand how stressful such uncertainty can be, especially for teachers at the outset of their careers. I want to comment on the circumstances that have given rise to funding uncertainty, how school boards should respond and, finally, what options might be available to you.

In the normal course of events, we would have expected a budget to have been put forward in the legislature in April and, shortly thereafter, the release of a new Funding Manual for School Authorities setting out the grant rates and funding eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, the provincial election upset the usual rollout of the budget; the New Democrat government did not table a budget prior to dropping the writ of election and the new United Conservative government has indicated that it will only be putting forward its first budget in the fall sitting of the legislature, probably in October. Until then, the government will be bringing forward a series of supply bills to cover its expenditures, but there will be no new funding manual to direct boards in their own planning for 2019/20.

Given this uncertainty, school boards seem to be jumping to conclusions about the government’s intentions regarding education funding. There are anecdotal reports that a number of boards seem to operating on the assumption that the classroom improvement funding will not be continued, that there will be no additional funding available for enrollment growth, and that grants for programs such as school nutrition will be cancelled.

Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum and it is understandable that, absent of clear and explicit direction from government, school boards would assume the worst and behave accordingly. This, however, is precisely the wrong approach to take at this time. During the election campaign, UCP leader Jason Kenney stated that a UCP government would maintain or increase education funding and continue to build schools.

This, however, is precisely the wrong approach to take at this time.

He stated on March 25 that, “We are committing to maintain or increase the current (education) budget. But that will be a function of our future budget.”

Kenney went on to say that, “We’re not planning for an increase in funding in our platform but there will be no cuts to education under a UCP government,” although he did note that a UCP government would “seek to reduce administrative spending in the education system to push those dollars out to the front lines.”

In the absence of contrary advice, school boards should take the premier at his word and hire on the basis that core funding will be unchanged and that, with most grants being distributed on a per-student basis, enrollment growth will be funded. There is no justification for premature and pre-emptory hiring freezes, staffing cuts or program cancellations, particularly when many boards are maintaining operating reserves. Quite the opposite, it is time for boards to “create some facts on the ground.”

Should the situation change for the worse with the passage of the budget in October, then school boards would be justified in making appropriate adjustments, however difficult and painful those might be for the teachers, staff, students and parents affected. Responsibility for any cuts, though, would then clearly lie at the feet of the government.

If you are on a probationary contract and your evaluations have gone well, the recommendation should be for a continuous contract regardless of whether a position exists. The recommendation is based on your meeting the Teaching Quality Standard and not on the provincial or school board budget. It does not actually commit the board to hiring you, but if a position exists the board should honour that recommendation and employ you on a continuous contract. If budget realities force the board to reduce staffing, that is a separate matter.

If you are a teacher who has been directly affected by a board staffing freeze or staffing cut, please contact ATA Member Services for advice on your specific situation. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House ( 

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