P.E.I. Teachers Federation President Gilles Arsenault says teacher numbers should be maintained. (CBC)

Teacher cuts in the province will have a direct impact on student learning and numbers should be maintained even while enrolment continues to drop, says the P.E.I. Teachers' Federation.

Last week, Education Minister Alan McIsaac said 50 teaching positions could be cut before the next school year begins.

On Tuesday, McIsaac said he doesn't know how many positions will be cut. That's for school boards to decide.

Gilles Arsenault, president of the P.E.I, Teachers' Federation, said school boards have been able to create positions for math and literacy coaches, who have had a big impact in lower grades. But cuts will erase those gains.

"Now is not the time to be cutting those positions. I think we still need them in the system. We really see it as a financial decision and not an educational one at this point," said Arsenault.

McIsaac concedes the boards face a challenge, with funding being frozen and costs continuously rising.

"I mean, teachers' salaries have gone up, price of heat has gone up, that sort of thing. That all has to be factored in, and that's what the board has to deal with," said McIsaac.

McIsaac said he hopes all the cuts can be made through attrition. He said 25 teachers have announced plans to retire at the end of the year, and more will likely come forward before the end of June.

Enrolment has been dropping about 400 students a year, but until last year, when the province eliminated 34 positions through attrition, teacher numbers weren't dropping along with them, he said.

Meanwhile, teachers and the province are negotiating a new contract.

And McIsaac said a one per cent increase in teacher salaries would cost the same as 28 teaching positions.