On Thursday, March 3, 2016, Paige MacPherson, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) proposed that the government seek a 10% rollback on Teachers salaries. And you know what? She is perfectly right to ask that question.
In our economic reality where government revenue is heavily tied to the price of a barrel of oil, currently cheaper than a schooner of Big Rock Honey Brown, there is no money in the bank account. Asking teachers to take such a rollback would amount to approximately $340,000,000 in the provincial coffers that would be used to ...
Okay, so what does a 10% cut to teachers' salaries mean? It means teachers are in effect taking $6,000 to $10,000 out of their paycheck and giving it back to the government. Or, alternatively, it means approximately 4000 teacher positions will be removed across the province, which follows as a more likely outcome based on what happened in 2003. The amount being asked of teachers is equivalent to more than the entirety of the education budget cuts in 1994 (not including the taxation powers that were removed from school boards).
Alberta Teachers are among the best paid in the country. However, contrary to what the CTF says, taking a pay cut of 10% would not keep them as the top-paid teachers in the country, it would actually drop them from the current position of 4th behind the territories to 5th behind Ontario, almost on par with Manitoba. Nonetheless, we're still easily in the top five, even after such a pay cut.
So let's talk about this cut in terms of return on investment. In 1994 teachers took a 5% rollback under the then Klein-Administration with not much more than platitudes of "we'll make it better". In my mind, sustainability doesn't last 22 years, it lasts much longer, yet here we are, with the consideration of asking teachers to give it up again. This time, when we seriously consider the cuts, let's make sure we do it with a keener eye to not allowing the government to bring us here again in 22 years.
So teachers, as you seriously consider a 10% rollback, you must ask "if we give you this money, what are you going to do with it?"
Is the $340,000,000 going to be earmarked for fixing the economy, which is the cause of this issue in the first place? Does the Alberta Government have a plan to diversify the economy, and get off our dependence on oil? Investment in green energy doesn't count, that's already being funded by the carbon tax. Neither does the eventual increase in income and corporate taxes, although they will definitely result in additional revenue for the government that is not based on oil. However, income and corporate taxes are heavily based on, wait for it, income, so with so few Albertans earning one of those, we can't count on that revenue either.
So the answer is no to those questions? Okay then, let's consider something else that money could be used for.
Is the $340,000,000 earmarked for a plan to reduce class complexity, including special needs, English Language Learning, impoverished or at-risk students? Will it be used to provide professional development to help us learn how to better manage the increasing class sizes and class complexities? If history is any indicator, the more likely result will be the loss of teacher positions, which will not ameliorate class complexity issues. Further, with fewer Albertans earning an income, and at-risk behaviour and educational success being tied to poverty, those class complexities are only about to get even more complex.
So again, the answer is no to those questions? Then what would this money be used for? Convince the teachers it would be used for something!
It would be used to help the government provide services. Services like teachers.
So hang on, if teachers concede a rollback of 10%, that 10% might just go fund ... teachers? So what that is saying is that a teacher that makes $80,000, the CTF is suggesting the government can only afford $72,000 of their current contract if the teachers concede that rollback. If the teachers don't concede that rollback, the government would then only be able to afford $64,000.
So take the 10%, or see 20% of your salary's worth cut from the classroom.
What that means is the CTF's proposal is not in fact a proposal, but a veiled threat. And it's not threatening teachers most. It's threatening students.
From a business perspective, what we see here is absolutely no return on the investment the CTF is asking teachers to make in Alberta.
Instead, the CTF is asking teachers to manage an increase in class complexity and size, continue to deliver world-class education that other countries look to for examples of educational leadership and research (don't give me the math debate garbage, I've already debunked that), deal with a decrease in income to manage their home day-to-day expenses which often include classroom supplies, and to carry the entire weight of a faltering economy, with no plan to fix it.
What is left to convince teachers to take this rollback? "Be considerate of your neighbours who have had paycuts and job losses, too". A sort of "misery loves company" rationale.
Teachers help our future learn how to question, criticize, reflect, show their work, stand up for what's right, write for a purpose, read for understanding, shoot hoops, make a tower out of dry spaghetti and marshmallows, make a cooler out of cardboard and sawdust, make their parents cry as they play Shenandoah with 63 of their peers, apologize and mean it, refuse to be sorry and instead be better, and make a difference.
Which of those things would you cut to provide the misery of Albertans with more company?
Teachers are already being considerate of their fellow Albertans, as what happens to those Albertans happens to their kids. That means that teachers are already dealing with the increased at-risk behaviour, the kids who come to school hungry because there's no food in the pantry, and the elevated expectations of parents who just don't want their kids to have to go through what they are.
Teachers are already taking a 10% rollback. They cry every time they see another kid disadvantaged. Its just costing teachers their souls and sanity instead of their salary. In response to MacPherson's "won't somebody please think about the chidren" cry, teachers would not be faulted for saying "we do, every damn day."
So teachers, as you seriously consider the 10% rollback, consider these things as well; there is no plan to solve the economic issues, there is no plan to deal with classroom conditions, and you are indeed the best teachers in the world defending our future.
Make your decision with that in mind.