Alberta teachers did not walk away from talks to freeze salaries as Premier Ed Stelmach stated Monday, according to Education Minister Dave Hancock.
"I have to say the [Alberta Teachers' Association] was there at the table with us trying to work on a solution," Hancock said.
School boards across the province have announced layoffs to deal with budget shortfalls that come from having to fund a previously-negotiated 4.5 per cent bump to teacher salaries.
On Monday, Stelmach rejected suggestions provincial funding levels were to blame. Instead, he said the ATA caused the problem because "they went for raises" instead of keeping jobs, when talks ended in January to freeze or reduce that wage hike.
His statement sparked a pointed reaction from ATA president Carol Henderson who said the government, not the union, was responsible for ending the discussion.
Hancock said talks started last fall and by January it was clear a deal couldn't be reached. The ATA executive needed something concrete they could present to members who have have collective agreements with each of the 62 Alberta school boards.
"It's hard to characterize something as complex as what we were doing in sort of saying 'teachers walked away' or 'wouldn't agree to,'" Hancock said.
"They would have agreed if we came up with the right agreement ... if they had something to take back to their teachers."
Stelmach did not make himself available for comment Tuesday.
The ATA has estimated there will be 1,000 fewer teaching positions in Alberta during the next school year.
The Edmonton Public School Board announced last week that 229 teaching and 115 non-teaching positions will have to be cut in response to a $14-million deficit.
The Calgary Board of Education is cutting 172 teaching and support positions to eliminate a $61.7 million deficit.
Hancock doesn't believe school boards will have to cut that many jobs. He called the layoff issue "overblown."