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Education budget uncertainty raises questions about public school staffing

May 1, 2019

Preliminary budget documents from Edmonton Public Schools predict the new government will end a $77-million fund that added hundreds more teachers and educational assistants to classrooms across the province.

Preliminary budget documents from Edmonton Public Schools predict the new government will end a $77-million fund that added hundreds more teachers and educational assistants to classrooms across the province.

The district’s high-level funding plan for the 2019-2020 school year also assumes the newly elected United Conservative Party government will provide roughly $29 million more in funding to pay for the 3,112 more students expected to enrol in Alberta’s second-largest school district.

“What we heard the UCP say is that there weren’t going to be any funding cuts to education,” Edmonton public school board chairwoman Michelle Draper said in a Tuesday interview. “We have these students coming in September. There needs to be funding to support their education.”

There will be “implications” without that funding, she said.

“We would see potentially larger class sizes. We would see less supports in the schools for our students.”

On Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved a $1.216-billion “distribution of funds” plan for the next school year, which anticipates an increase in revenue of about 1.5 per cent. Administrators predict the student population to grow by 3.1 per cent to 104,977 pupils, with the biggest jumps happening in prekindergarten and kindergarten, and junior and senior high school.

Administrators will allot money to each of the district’s 213 schools based on their expected enrolment and other factors. School principals then hand their budgets back to the central office, and district finance staff assemble a proposed budget, which must be approved by the board and sent to government by June 30.

Classroom Improvement Fund in question

The plan assumes the new government will end the Classroom Improvement fund (CIF), a fund created by the NDP in 2017 meant to hire more staff to improve conditions in classrooms. In 2017-18, the fund paid for an estimated 225 more teaching positions and 175 support staff across Alberta.

In Edmonton public last year, the CIF paid for about 29 new full-time teachers and the equivalent of 28 1/2 full-time educational and teaching assistants. It also paid to expand the hours of existing staff to add the equivalent of nearly 16 full-time teachers and about 10 educational assistants.

Superintendent Darrel Robertson told the board Tuesday that without the $10.9 million the district received this year from the CIF, class sizes could climb and there could be less support for students with challenges and additional needs.

“We’ll make sure kids are taken care of to the best of our abilities,” he said.

Guessing game

With the province in election mode for the last month, there has been no spring provincial budget to tell school boards how much money they have to work with.

Finance folks in school districts are left making their best guesses on possible education funding based on the UCP’s platform and public statements.

“Uncertainty isn’t great when it comes to planning to open our doors for the year,” Robertson said, pointing to time-sensitive contractual obligations with staff the board must meet.

During the campaign, Kenney said a UCP government would “maintain or increase” education funding, but did not provide specifics.

Draper wants to meet as soon as possible with new Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Premier Jason Kenney.

In addition to budget questions, Draper wants to know the government’s plan for the partially-written new K-12 curriculum. Kenney said he would pause the curriculum revamp to do more consultation.

Administrators told the board Tuesday hundreds of Edmonton public staff were involved in writing, reviewing and giving feedback on the draft K-4 curriculum. The government should learn how much time and integrity went into that work, Draper said.

“I would hope and trust that it really doesn’t make sense for them to walk right in and just wipe everything off the table without actually trying to understand,” Draper said. “This is something that’s been going on far longer than four years.”

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