Presumed UCP leadership front-runner Danielle Smith was met with boos Wednesday at an event full of promises to repair the relationship between government and Alberta’s teachers’ union.
At the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) summer conference in Banff, six of the seven candidates hoping to become UCP leader and premier faced questions selected by delegates on public education.
Some in the crowd had a vocal response when Smith offered an anecdote about a student she said entered Grade 9 without foundational reading skills.
“Are kids getting socially promoted without having the basic skills in reading?” she asked. When she said she had heard from parents trying to teach their kids math, and “the kids were getting the wrong answer, but they were getting grades,” some expressed audible disapproval.
“This is the reason why there was a huge outcry from parents to get more structured math programming,” she said.
When Smith said she had spoken with Postmedia columnist David Staples on the K-12 curriculum, she was met with laughter and groans.
“Respect is a two-way street, guys,” Smith said in response.
“If you’re wondering why there’s a pressure for people to have other choices, it’s because the parents are feeling like they’re not having their views and their values reflected in the classroom,” she said, adding she’s open to ways to address that to maintain parents’ confidence in the public school system.
After the forum, ATA president Jason Schilling accused the UCP of failing teachers, but said he hoped the candidates would support education.
“We’re going to hold you to account,” he said.
Later, Schilling told reporters those running for the UCP leadership are not experts in the field.
“Some of the things that were said today were out of touch with the reality of our schools,” he said.
Candidates took turns promising closer consultation with teachers and expressing regret over some of the most controversial issues that have emerged under the UCP’s mandate so far, including the way in which the K-12 curriculum was developed.
When Central-Peace Notley Independent MLA Todd Loewen asked the crowd if they believed the curriculum should be thrown out and started from scratch, he got a resounding “yes.”
“And that’s where we’ll disagree,” he said, proposing to fix issues with the curriculum and implementation, involving teachers in the process.
Candidates also spoke out about the UCP government’s decision to bring the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) under the umbrella of the government-owned investment manager Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).
“If you want to understand the deepest disrespect that we could have done to our teachers, that was it,” said Chestermere-Strathmore UCP MLA Leela Aheer to applause from the room.
Smith, however, said if there had been better earnings at AIMCo, it might not have been so controversial.
“AIMCo may need to be reconstituted or we may need to take a closer look at their management if it doesn’t have the confidence of the public,” Smith said.
Former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz disagreed, saying it wasn’t about investment returns.
“The issue was about consultation,” she said.
Fort McMurrary-Lac La Biche UCP MLA Brian Jean said it never would have happened if he were premier, and former transportation minister Rajan Sawhney called the pension move “absolutely the wrong decision.”
When it came to questions of funding, Schulz reiterated a promise to get 3,500 more educational assistants and teachers into classrooms.
“Education is one area where more funding may be required,” she said, adding she would double capital funding for building and fixing schools.
Aheer said education funding must keep pace with inflation and population and enrolment growth.
“Our children should not be subjected to austerity,” she said.
Former finance minister Travis Toews, who is also running for the party leadership, did not participate in the event.News Source: Edmonton Journal