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Friday, December 3, 2021

Alberta preschools face costly lesson when it comes to wage top-ups

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A Calgary preschool owner is speaking out after being left out of recent wage top-ups by the province.

Bill 39: the Child Care Licensing (Early Learning and Child Care) Ammendment Act, which came into force Feb. 1, 2021, aligns preschools with child care centres in Alberta. But not aligned are wages.

“Before- and after-school programs and daycares — they get the wage top-up,” Green Door Preschool owner Debbie Sheppard said. “And we don’t.

“We are being left out yet again. They’re calling us all the same thing, putting us all in the same category, and yet they’re leaving our teachers behind.”

Sheppard added that puts her at a major disadvantage, especially when it comes to getting and retaining qualified staff.

“The top-up for a teacher with a Level 3 is over $6 more an hour,” she said. “The top-up for even our aides, which are Level 1s, is over $2 more an hour.

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“That’s money coming out of my pocket. You have to keep your staff, you have to keep your reputation — because your reputation in this business is everything.”

Calgary preschool calls for equality in light of new wage top-up allowances.

Global Calgary

Sheppard also told Global News that Alberta licensing requirements compel her to have qualified staff on hand, so she’s really in a catch-22 type of situation.

“If you’re going to make that be a part of our licence, then why are we not part of the top-up as well?” she asked.

The Southern Alberta Preschool Teachers Association (SAPTA) expressed the same concerns to Global News.

“Preschool is always kind of an afterthought,” SAPTA’s former president Terri Calder said.

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Calder is a longtime teacher at Foothills Alliance School in Calgary. She said she had been lobbying the province for changes for the past 21 years — to no avail.

She also spoke out before Bill 39 was a done deal, but added it obviously had no effect.

“It’s all a financial game right?” she said. “We have to follow all of the rules, but we get none of the benefits.”

Calder questioned why preschools are even included in the same ministry as child care centres, suggesting perhaps Alberta Education would be more fitting.

Either way, she added, preschools are having to work with what they have and so do staff.

“If you go into the preschool field, you go in knowing you’re not going to be making as much money as you should be making,” Calder said.

“All of our finances come straight from parents’ tuition and we can’t charge so much tuition that it makes it impossible for parents to send their kids to preschool — so we have to cap our wages.”

Foothills Alliance has capped its wages, advising any potential employee there is only so much it can offer. Calder said luckily it has managed to recruit and retain some very educated and professional teachers.

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“Yeah, we’re kind of in no man’s land and nothing seems to change,” Calder said.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of Children’s Services with these concerns. Becca Polak, the press secretary for Minister Rebecca Schulz, replied with a statement that read, in part: “Top-ups for workers were not available to preschool educators under the previous Act or the previous government.”

Polak added the government recognizes preschools are important to both children and parents and said now that operators are part of the minister’s working group,” she continues to work with them on how to make sure preschool educators are retained and valued in our system.”

Both Sheppard and Calder aren’t holding out much hope.

Both said it’s sad that preschools are in this situation, and added the pandemic has proved that early learning is more important than ever, giving toddlers a place to learn and grow and giving parents a break.

“Preschool is more important in today’s society than it’s ever been,” Sheppard said.

That’s why she’s committed to continue to pay out-of-pocket for her staff’s top-ups.

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“We have to pay or we don’t get the high-quality staff that the parents are paying for their kids to come here deserve,” she said.

“This is a fight for the staff. This is a fight for equality.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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