March 17, 2016

Alberta: Teachers are vitally important, but they need a salary rollback

Paige MacPhersonAlberta CTF Director

(Paige MacPherson is Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This op-ed originally appeared in the Calgary Sun on March 9, 2016.)

Yes, education is vitally important and the good work done by teachers is extremely valuable in our society.

No, that does not mean teachers are entitled to automatic raises or even the current generous pay packet when the province is beyond broke.

On Wednesday, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen made an announcement about the NDP hiring new teachers (education funding announcements: always a shocker during a by-election). In the media scrum that followed, Eggen wouldn’t take a firm position when asked about teachers’ compensation.

It’s an extremely important debate to be had. The province’s collective agreements with the Alberta Teachers Association end on August 31. Recall that the last negotiation gave teachers a 2 per cent wage increase and lump sum payment following a three-year wage freeze. The contract before that scored the teachers an increase of nearly 23 per cent from 2006-07 to 2012-13.

It’s time to reduce teachers’ salaries in the province, along with government employee salaries across the board.

A teacher employed with Calgary School District 19 as an example, after working for only 10 years and having received six years of schooling, brings home $101,331.

For most, it’s hard to imagine reaching peak salary after only 10 years in your career. Add to that: two months of summer vacation, lengthy holiday breaks, generous benefits and an entitlement of 90 days of paid sick leave.

In 2014, the BC Teachers Federation put together a cross-provincial comparison of teachers’ salaries, finding that at the maximum level Alberta teachers were the highest paid of any province, averaging $99,004 in 2013-14.

According to the World Economic Forum, Canadian teachers are the third-best paid in the world, averaging $85,296 after 10 years’ experience in 2013-14. That means Alberta teachers are the highest paid of any province, in the third highest paid country in the world.

To put that in perspective, the average Albertan earned $60,476 in 2014, the highest in Canada. Often times it’s argued that Alberta teachers must have high salaries because they’re competing with the private sector for talent. But as noted in a University of Calgary report, teaching is a specialized profession for which government is the dominant employer, meaning that Alberta is competing more so with other provinces than the private sector.

The province is currently staring down a potential $10.4 billion deficit – a financial burden so heavy, our finance minister couldn’t even bring himself to utter the number to reporters. The province’s debt is over $17 billion and growing.

Yet, the Alberta teachers union still isn’t ruling out a raise for teachers. When faced with the numbers, the degree to which this union sounds so incredibly out of touch is almost incomprehensible.

Compensation for teachers has become a sacred cow in Canada. Politicians don’t dare address it, lest they be the subjects of a dramatic union dust-up over how they’re denying little Tommy of textbooks. The entire debate has reached peak level ridiculous.

Despite the fact that negotiations with teachers unions often lands kids out of school for extended periods of time, it’s somehow always the mean old politicians who aren’t “putting students first.”

Let’s move past the rhetoric.

Discussions of teachers’ salaries, when they’re already as high as they are in Alberta, have nothing to do with the kids. A CD Howe Institute study looking at teacher salaries found no clear relationship between student performance and relative compensation.

It is completely unnecessary to undermine the valuable work teachers do by putting them at odds with cash-strapped taxpayers with another wage debate.

If the Alberta teachers union decides to say economy be damned and demand increases to salaries or benefits, the answer should be no. They’re out of touch by every reasonable measure. The time to roll back teachers’ salaries is now.

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commented 2016-03-23 01:34:59 -0400
I love to see the teachers comments on here. My brother is a red seal journeyman in three different trades, each trade is 3-4 years of apprenticeship. His in-laws- a music teacher and a social studies teacher have complete contempt for him. You teachers hate to see somebody “less educated” make better money. Those tradespeople actually did go to school. They also personally sacrificed spending time with their families, never had regular holidays, and took a physical beating. Try working outdoors for 10 or 12 hours in a Alberta winter! Or being gone 3 weeks out of a month while your children are little. Teachers need to wake up, they’re completely out of touch.
commented 2016-03-19 11:29:44 -0400
Teachers in Canada have come a long way in the past half century. Mostly in a downward direction re quality and accountability. The Gimmee Gimmee generation.
I recall my one-room school teacher who got around $50 a month from a district budget of less that $1,000 a year. We maintained our own school and bought all the necessaries supplies. The quality then? Four times what it is now. We actually learned valuable life skills and morals, unlike the cesspool that schools now are. We had a Bible reading in the morning and had time off for cropping and harvest (nowhere near the current nerd ‘vacation’ of March Break they get now, for no reason except another vacation for teachers. Our teacher was a guide, guardian, parent, councilor, and friend. No so now. I have a friend (retired teacher) who is doing far better now on retirement benefits than I did while working. Do they need a raise etc? No.

And as for the squawkers here like Dylan who completely forget that teachers are on the public teat; CEO’s are not. No comparison. Own up or shut up, teachers.
commented 2016-03-19 01:36:43 -0400
We don’t page teachers enough, considering what they have to deal with.

Rolling back their salaries is moronic.
commented 2016-03-17 21:14:55 -0400
I have no problem with private sector wages as they are market driven unlike public sector wages which are taken out of the pockets of taxpayers, whether they like it or not, or whether they are satisfied with the service provided or not. If I took a pay cut my wage would be very little. If a teacher took a wage cut (which will never happen) they wouldn’t starve. The best we can ever hope for is public wages being frozen for a time. Teachers daring to whine to me will get an earful. To be perfectly honest I resent public school teachers. The whole system stinks.
commented 2016-03-17 21:14:32 -0400
That is the thing about teachers, and most entitled public sector employees. They actually think they are hard done by! They actually think that they are rocket scientists. I have met good teachers and I have met crappy teachers. More crap than good. I have never met a humble teacher like the one in the vid who talks about cadillac pensions and the moral dilemma of seeing your community suffer at the expense of teacher union demands. I know teachers and I have relatives who are teachers, and I have no sympathy for any of your entitled asses. The public school system is broken. I hauled my kids out of it and put them in alternative settings. It was a long time ago. They are grown and successful.
commented 2016-03-17 19:46:11 -0400
@ Dylan McLernon
First off I would put Paige’s salary in the 60k range, minimal benefits, pension ? probably not gold plated, adjusted nor guaranteed.
Yes, as you stated, trades people and engineers can make a good dollar in boom times, now they are unemployed and living off their savings.
Bottom line is your little rant is comparing totally different revenue streams, secure, set for life, versus make hay while the sun shines and hope it will carry forward.
It’s St Patrick’s day, with that last name you should be enjoying a pint, not spewing idiotic drivel on a comment board.
Or have you been indulging already ?
commented 2016-03-17 18:18:19 -0400
Hey Paige… are you going to take a pay cut?
commented 2016-03-17 18:15:55 -0400
greig mckinnon I know bankers on wallstreet who feel the same as teachers. I also know bankers in Canada who feel the same. Imagine that. Imagine your children as the future of our economy and you have a concern that a 10 year tenured teacher earns $100,000? A ten year tenured engineer will likely earn that much in a boom. A lot of people were coming from the east as trades people and earning that in a year here in Alberta during the boom. Now they should take a roll back? Tell me are the bank CEO’s going to take a roll back? How about the CEO’s of west jet? Air Canada? Are you starting to see my point here, or are you too obtuse to understand?
commented 2016-03-17 18:10:24 -0400
You know, it is great for this person to say that the teachers should take a roll back in their wages. Because mortgage prices never went through the roof here in Alberta and people don’t have to pay off their post secondary education, nor any other debt that has been accumulated. It is great that here in Canada Alberta is in a recession, and the rest of the country is in a mini recession, but the banks reaped record profits this year, and the Royal Bank CEO made $11million, meanwhile offering f-all towards our GDP. It is great that all of you in here have come to bash the unions and these teachers who do their best to educate and basically take care of your children, while you are at home or at work earning the big bucks. It is great that Ezra Levant and his crew of oil and cigarette lobbyists can tell the teachers that they are earning too much. But we are not allowed to tell the CEO’s of multi-national corporations that they earn too much. This shows the height of your hypocrisy and idiocy as human beings. Get on the bandwagon or the soapbox and complain about how much someone else is earning, meanwhile ignore all the other injustices being done.
commented 2016-03-17 15:41:06 -0400
You guys just don’t get it. It’s for the children. Right!
commented 2016-03-17 11:27:32 -0400
Salary rollback, that will be the day. Trudeau has just re- empowered unions, undoing Harper’s attempts to limit their power. I’d like to think that some teachers see the problem and are in a ‘moral dilemma’ because of the ‘Cadillac pensions’ for example, however I wonder how many actually are. In my opinion the public school system is too broken to even bother with. Id like to see the private sector opening more alternative schools. People need more options. Unions should stay out of education. The provincial should stay out of education. They are too involved is every way. Crooks and extortionists, the bunch of them. Rollback in salary, I’d like to live to see the day!
commented 2016-03-17 11:22:57 -0400
I know a lot of teachers and have relatives that are teachers. Their collective theme and belief is that they are over worked, way under paid, are not given enough respect and it is their god given right to demand and receive huge pay and pension increases regardless of the state of the Country or Province.After all they are entitled. Its for the kids doncha know.
commented 2016-03-17 11:15:43 -0400
In most cases teachers in grade school are little more than overpaid daycare workers/social workers – gone is the nurturing passion to pass on knowledge – – more like a quisling indoctrination model today – they really do think they own your kids and can dictate family policy to you.

After constant confrontations with insidious “social worker” teachers, and the emotional mess they made of our son and family, my wife and I dipped into our retirement savings to send him to private school – what a difference, never looked back after that, the boy excelled in his academics, peer relations and became a well adjusted kid who after grade school went on to an engineering degree (which he is paying for by working for a sponsor firm).

Private schools funded + controlled by parents or home school are the best thing you can do for your child’s mental/moral development and future.
commented 2016-03-17 11:15:39 -0400
Privatize education! Real teachers would rise to top the rest fail miserably and be accountable! Presently just another daycare center!
commented 2016-03-17 11:13:19 -0400
Pay up or the kids get it!
commented 2016-03-17 10:57:15 -0400
judging from the caliber of the students leaving the system now, I think minimum wage is acceptable.