UCP doesn’t want Albertans to talk about cuts that could come if they form government in 2019
“How are we going to get our province back on course? I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s going to hurt. Will it affect you? It absolutely will,” said United Conservative Party MLA Dave Hanson, echoing similar statements from UCP activists and supporters, about the public service funding cuts that could follow if that party wins next year’s provincial election.
In response to these types of statements, the Edmonton Public School Board did its due diligence when Trustee Michael Janz asked the board administration to prepare estimates for four potential budget scenarios in 2019:
- No funding for enrolment growth.
- Hiring Freeze – not permitted to staff retirements.
- The District is faced with a three per cent decrease to the budget for the next four years.
- The District is faced with a five per cent decrease to the budget for the next four years.
With a growing population and a large cohort of new students expected to enter the public education system in the next few years, these are exactly the kind of scenarios that Alberta parents and students should be worried about, and our elected trustees should be preparing for.
The worst-case scenario projected 932 teachers’ jobs cut in Edmonton, packed classrooms with fewer resources, with similar outcomes in cities, towns, and rural areas across the province.
Not surprisingly, the UCP did not appreciate the attention on this issue. The conservative opposition party is ahead in the polls, but they desperately don’t want to talk about the deep funding cuts to public services that could result if they attempt to balance the provincial budget while also decreasing government revenue through tax cuts.
As David Climenhaga wrote at AlbertaPolitics.ca, the UCP “was in furious damage control mode” as the elected trustees debated the results of the various budget estimate scenarios. UCP leader Jason Kenney leapt to his smartphone to Tweet a denial of the cuts and an accusation that Janz was an “NDP member of the Edmonton school board.”
That any trustee of our public education system might be inclined to favour parties that believe in proper, or at least stable, funding for public education should be no surprise. Since the 2015 election, Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government avoided calls for budget austerity and instead made significant investments in public services and public infrastructure. And this break from decisions made by past governments appears to be paying off.
“Over the last decade, we’ve barely recovered from the Klein cutbacks of the 1990s,” Janz wrote in an email to his Ward F constituents in southwest Edmonton. “If we want to actually make things better for our students, staff, and families, it is time for investment, not cutbacks.”
Kenney’s latter-day fondness for former premier Ralph Klein, whose personality was loved by many Albertans and whose devastating budget cuts to front-line services are still being felt, is likely the cause of some concern. And with so much at stake, our school trustees should be asking these kinds of questions.
Janz is a particularly enthusiastic and incredibly resourceful trustee. His energizer-bunny approach to canvassing during election campaigns earned him more votes in the October 2017 election than any other candidate in Edmonton except Mayor Don Iveson (I know this from personal experience, Janz is a friend and I door-knocked with him in 2017). In the same vein, he has not been afraid tackle politically controversial topics as a trustee.
During the 2015 provincial election, then-board chair Janz joined the chairs of 6 other school boards, representing 19 boards, stepping out of their traditional role on the sidelines to make a public plea that increased student enrolment must offset by increased funding from the government. More recently, he has asked the provincial government to prioritize the construction of public schools in new neighbourhoods, raising the ire of proponents of publicly-funded Roman Catholic education.
“As a Trustee, I would not be doing my job effectively if I didn’t highlight the investment in the future of our prosperity that is an excellent public education system,” Janz wrote. “Let’s stop talking about how to make it worse, let’s start talking about how to make it better.”
School board trustees are not neutral servants of any provincial politician in Edmonton. They are elected officials and when the future of public education for students is at stake, they should not shy away from asking the tough questions, regardless of how inconvenient it might be for anyone in the Alberta Legislature.