Alberta school boards have been told the province will cover the cost of a pay hike awarded to teachers earlier this year.

Education Minister Dave Hancock made the $23-million commitment for 2010 during a meeting Monday, said Heather Welwood, president of the Alberta School Boards Association.

But there's no commitment to cover increases next year, which are expected to cost another $100 million.

"We've got part of this situation solved and now we are going to have to go onto next year," said Welwood, "and school boards are going to have to make some tough decisions on whether they deficit budget to keep programs exactly the same — and we're talking $100 million — or whether they balance their budgets and look at where they can get efficiencies." 

The $23-million shortfall is related to a dispute over the Alberta Average Weekly Earnings index — part of the formula for determining salary increases for teachers. A formula change by Statistics Canada last year increased the pay hike from 4.85 per cent to 5.99 per cent.

An arbitrator upheld the new figure in February, and Hancock insisted the shortfall would have to come from school board budgets.

In the 2010 budget, Alberta school boards were given a budget increase of $246 million, or 4.6 per cent — for a total of $5.6 billion in 2010-11.